Narnia: Moral Event Horizons

Narnia Recap: Edmund has slipped out of the Beavers house and is heading for the Witch's home.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 9: In The Witch's House

   AND NOW OF COURSE YOU WANT TO know what had happened to Edmund. He had eaten his share of the dinner, but he hadn't really enjoyed it because he was thinking all the time about Turkish Delight -- and there's nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food. And he had heard the conversation, and hadn't enjoyed it much either, because he kept on thinking that the others were taking no notice of him and trying to give him the cold shoulder. They weren't, but he imagined it.

Regular readers of this deconstruction will possibly recollect that I have an unexpected soft spot in my heart for young Edmund, so in this chapter, it probably won't be too surprising to see me take an issue here or there with the narrative. What I wasn't quite expecting was how soon into the chapter this would occur.

Edmund and his siblings, you will recall, have quarreled rather badly just a few hours before. Edmund let slip that he had, in fact, been to Narnia and then lied about it and Peter responded very angrily to his brother's accidental revelation. And this is unfortunate because if anyone had stopped to ask Edmund why he lied about his visit and what, precisely, occurred during his visit, it may have come out that he met the White Witch and that he has established sympathies with her. And then, knowing that, the Beavers might have been able to have a more open dialogue with the children about why the queen is bad for Narnia instead of spouting racist statements about the ruling legitimacy of non-humans in a country entirely populated by non-humans and whose relatively-recently-deceased royal line was composed almost entirely of non-humans.

So now we have the curious situation where Edmund and his siblings have been cross with one another, and suddenly Edmund drops entirely from the narrative so that there can be a quick mystery of when, precisely, he left. The practical upshot of this, though, is that (a) the children and the Beavers (who claim to have known Edmund to be magicked up) have not involved Edmund in the dinner preparations or the dinner conversation, and (b) so little attention was being paid to Edmund that he was able to get up from the table, open the door out onto a blustery winter night, and step out into the snow without anyone so much as blinking an eye.

I will therefore have to beg to differ when the narrator claims that the others weren't giving Edmund the cold shoulder.

Now let's do something utterly wild and look at this scene from Edmund's point of view. The children are in a magical land that is in a state of civil war. The disputed ruling power has approached Edmund with apparent friendship, and has additionally plied him with magical food (the effect of which is so powerful that supposedly it changes the aspect of one's face and bearing such that other Narnians can recognize those who have been magicked up). Rather than parlaying with this ruling power, the other children have thrown their lot in with a family of beavers who spout racist remarks and conspiracy theories about the queen maybe turning people to stone, and claim that a lion no one has seen for a hundred years is going to magically turn up and make everything better if only they all get out in the snow and walk several miles to some table in the middle of nowhere, just as soon as they finish the marmalade roll.

   And then he had listened until Mr. Beaver told them about Aslan and until he had heard the whole arrangement for meeting Aslan at the Stone Table. It was then that he began very quietly to edge himself under the curtain which hung over the door. For the mention of Aslan gave him a mysterious and horrible feeling just as it gave the others a mysterious and lovely feeling.

Also, the lion's name makes Edmund feel profoundly uncomfortable for mysterious (i.e., not because he totally knows he's totally doing something totally wrong?) reasons. So I have to think that at least some of Edmund's actions here are somewhat internally consistent and understandable from his point of view. And now we come to a part I actually like:

   You mustn't think that even now Edmund was quite so bad that he actually wanted his brother and sisters to be turned into stone. He did want Turkish Delight and to be a Prince (and later a King) and to pay Peter out for calling him a beast.

This seems like a very reasonable and sympathetic description of Edmund. He's not a bad boy, he's a boy who is frustrated and annoyed with his siblings, and he'd very much like some candy and to be fussed over a little by the Queen who has promised to make him her heir, and plus it would be nice to not be the "little" brother anymore. And quite probably he needs a nap, too -- I can sympathize. This isn't Edmund the Villain; this is Edmund the Tricked, Edmund the Bamboozled, Edmund the Slightly-More-Selfish-Than-One-Might-Hope-But-He's-Had-A-Rough-Year-What-With-The-War-And-All. I can get behind that. But then --

  As for what the Witch would do with the others, he didn't want her to be particularly nice to them -- certainly not to put them on the same level as himself; but he managed to believe, or to pretend he believed, that she wouldn't do anything very bad to them, "Because," he said to himself, "all these people who say nasty things about her are her enemies and probably half of it isn't true. She was jolly nice to me, anyway, much nicer than they are. I expect she is the rightful Queen really. Anyway, she'll be better than that awful Aslan!" At least, that was the excuse he made in his own mind for what he was doing. It wasn't a very good excuse, however, for deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel.

-- we're told that, no, Edmund isn't sympathetic at all because deep down inside he knows the Witch is cruel, and he's bad for going to her, and anything he says to the contrary is self-delusional. No, not even that, because he's only pretending to believe the Queen will be kind to his siblings. He's 100% committed to evil, he's just not honest about it. Great.

The problem is, this doesn't work. If Edmund really knows that the White Witch is evil and is going to turn his siblings to stone (or worse), he has to realize that he isn't going to fare much better. And if he knows that, then the only reason for him to walk out into the cold winter night and walk determinedly to her house is if he has a death wish or is so stubborn and unwilling to make up with his siblings that he's willing to die over his stubbornness. And if this is the case, then Edmund really does seem to be the Strawman Sinner: the one who knows that God exists and Christianity is right and he's going to hell for eternity if he doesn't submit, but by god he's too stubborn to submit himself to Jesus.

Does Lewis mean for us to make this connection? I honestly don't know -- and I honestly don't care. I don't mean that I "don't care" in a flippant way; I mean that I'm not here to judge C.S. Lewis as a person or determine what his private thoughts or theology was. I'm here to criticize the writing, not the writer, whether C.S. Lewis wrote LWW, or if it was written by Weird Al Yankovic as part of a complicated literary scheme involving time travel. So I hope it's clear that I'm not trying to say anything about Lewis as a person or his personal theology when I say that that this reads to me like a very particular way of thinking: the thinking that there are no genuinely mistaken people, only villains who deserve whatever bad happens to them.

A major problem with LWW, is that it is essential to the Narnia allegory that Edmund be a villain. Edmund needs to be a villain, because otherwise Aslan's sacrifice will be meaningless. If Edmund is genuinely mistaken, but is sentenced to death anyway by the Old Magic of The Emperor, then Aslan's sacrifice isn't one of the innocent dying for the guilty, but rather that of the innocent dying for another innocent. In which case, if our story has a villain, it's the unseen Emperor who created a law that would catch up in its wide nets a genuinely mistaken nine-year-old boy. If Lewis started LWW with the crucifixion in mind, then he started with the requirement that Edmund must be tried as an adult and sentenced to death for treason. In which case, he simply can't characterize Edmund as anything less than a villain, because otherwise God comes off looking bad. He can let Edmund be a little sympathetic -- even nice children can be sinners -- but at the end of the day, Edmund has to know what he's doing is wrong, or else there's no justice here.

Does the fact that Edmund is fated by the narrative to be a villain mean he's less of a villain? Not necessarily, of course. But for Edmund to be a villain worthy of death -- a Voldemort, or a Bellatrix, or a Sauron -- he needs to meet a bar that he's not quite meeting yet. TV Tropes calls this the Moral Event Horizon... and I think the author recognizes that, because we're about to get one.

But there's another interesting factor going on here that I can't quite explain. For the rest of the book, excepting a brief interlude at the end when the children are shown as adults, Edmund will suffer almost without pause. Edmund will suffer intense cold on the way to the Witch's house, he'll suffer magical hunger when he gets there, he'll suffer emotionally and physically on the subsequent ride to the Stone Table, he'll be nearly murdered by the Witch before being saved by Aslan, and he'll very nearly die in the final battle with the Witch, only saved from the brink of death at the last moment by a powerful healing elixir.

For all the sins Edmund is apparently committing in allying himself with the Witch, he won't have even a single moment of enjoyment from it: the only "good" thing he receives in the book will be the magicked food and drink he's already consumed. What shall we call this phenomena? (I'm tempted to call it The Passion of Edmund Pevensie, but that has so many problematic connotations.) I realize there's supposed to be a parallel here -- that the wages of sin are death, so to speak -- but it seems a shame to present the "evil" way as the difficult way. Isn't the road to hell supposed to be a primrose path more often than not?

   He kept slipping into deep drifts of snow, and skidding on frozen puddles, and tripping over fallen tree-trunks, and sliding down steep banks, and barking his shins against rocks, till he was wet and cold and bruised all over. The silence and the loneliness were dreadful. In fact I really think he might have given up the whole plan and gone back and owned up and made friends with the others, if he hadn't happened to say to himself, "When I'm King of Narnia the first thing I shall do will be to make some decent roads." And of course that set him off thinking about being a King and all the other things he would do and this cheered him up a good deal.

I'd like to interrupt my ramblings to say that despite the children being assured by the Beavers that they are the destined rulers of Narnia, it's interesting that Edmund seems to be the first and only one to take the prospect seriously.

This is, perhaps, meant to be a sign of his greed and ambition, but all I can think as an adult is that some decent roads might improve Narnia greatly. Not tar roads, of course, but some nice dirt or stone roads to encourage communication and trade throughout the country would probably be very useful for the next batch of rulers and additionally might stop Narnia from being taken over by hostile forces every couple of centuries. It just seems a very strange viewpoint that the best way to run a country is to keep it in a provincial state where everyone has to navigate by the sun and vague landmarks.

Then again, maybe having races of intelligent birds flying around the country makes it easier to send messages and roads are therefore unnecessary, I don't know.

   Edmund crept up to the arch and looked inside into the courtyard, and there he saw a sight that nearly made his heart stop beating. Just inside the gate, with the moonlight shining on it, stood an enormous lion crouched as if it was ready to spring. [...] He stood there so long that his teeth would have been chattering with cold even if they had not been chattering with fear. How long this really lasted I don't know, but it seemed to Edmund to last for hours. [...]   And now at last Edmund remembered what the others had said about the White Witch turning people into stone. Perhaps this was only a stone lion. [...]
   The relief which Edmund felt was so great that in spite of the cold he suddenly got warm all over right down to his toes, and at the same time there came into his head what seemed a perfectly lovely idea. "Probably," he thought, "this is the great Lion Aslan that they were all talking about. She's caught him already and turned him into stone. So that's the end of all their fine ideas about him! Pooh! Who's afraid of Aslan?"
   And he stood there gloating over the stone lion, and presently he did something very silly and childish. He took a stump of lead pencil out of his pocket and scribbled a moustache on the lion's upper lip and then a pair of spectacles on its eyes. Then he said, "Yah! Silly old Aslan! How do you like being a stone? You thought yourself mighty fine, didn't you?" But in spite of the scribbles on it the face of the great stone beast still looked so terrible, and sad, and noble, staring up in the moonlight, that Edmund didn't really get any fun out of jeering at it.

And there's your Moral Event Horizon.

As Moral Event Horizons go, it's a surprisingly effective one. Edmund hasn't killed anyone or even really kicked any puppies -- in fact, his action here causes no harm to anyone whatsoever. And yet the whole scene is viscerally awful, to the point where I'll wager that the "drawing on the lion" scene is what people remember most about Edmund, after the Turkish Delight. It struck a chord especially with me as a child; there's something about the sadness of the stone statues and the utter helplessness of the lion that makes Edmund's actions seem particularly mean-spirited. Edmund knows that these stone statues are people that the Witch has turned into stone, and yet instead of feeling pity, he only feels mockery and unease.

I'm not going to excuse Edmund for this, because I can't. But I do think it's interesting that Edmund's acting out against the stone statues is limited to this one Aslan-like lion. Is this intended simply to link the narrative together, or is there a deeper reason why Edmund didn't face down and draw on a wolf or a boar or in fact anything else? Edmund seems to regard the other statues with solemnity, and even outright pity, based on the narrative tone: 

   He found himself in a long gloomy hall with many pillars, full, as the courtyard had been, of statues. The one nearest the door was a little faun with a very sad expression on its face, and Edmund couldn't help wondering if this might be Lucy's friend.

I don't sense any jeering or mockery in Edmund's behavior at this point, but perhaps it's just because the moral has been made and it's time to move on with the story now. Has the solemnity of the situation imposed itself finally on Edmund? Is he worried about his future safety?

   "If you please, sir," said Edmund, trembling so that he could hardly speak, "my name is Edmund, and I'm the Son of Adam that Her Majesty met in the wood the other day and I've come to bring her the news that my brother and sisters are now in Narnia -- quite close, in the Beavers' house. She -- she wanted to see them." [...]
   Edmund stood and waited, his fingers aching with cold and his heart pounding in his chest, and presently the gray wolf, Maugrim, the Chief of the Witch's Secret Police, came bounding back and said, "Come in! Come in! Fortunate favorite of the Queen -- or else not so fortunate." [...]
   "I'm come, your Majesty," said Edmund, rushing eagerly forward.
   "How dare you come alone?" said the Witch in a terrible voice. "Did I not tell you to bring the others with you?"
   "Please, your Majesty," said Edmund, "I've done the best I can. I've brought them quite close. They're in the little house on top of the dam just up the river -- with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver." [...] "No, your Majesty," said Edmund, and proceeded to tell her all he had heard before leaving the Beavers' house.
   "What! Aslan?" cried the Queen, "Aslan! Is this true? If I find you have lied to me --"
   "Please, I'm only repeating what they said," stammered Edmund.

And thus ends Chapter 9. If anyone wants to dig up what, if anything, "Maugrim" alludes to and when and why it was changed to "Fenris Ulf" for some issues of the novel, I'd love to hear the story behind our chief of police here.

148 comments:

chris the cynic said...

for deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel.

Yeah, a lot of good that does. Say it's true. How helpful is it? If knowledge is going to be useful doesn't it have to come somewhat close to the surface?

Maybe Edmund also knows calculus, deep down, but it probably doesn't help him when faced with a test unless it starts to come up a little bit. Maybe it doesn't need to actually breach the surface, but I think it's going to need to at least reach periscope depth.

If he does know deep down that the Witch his bad what is he to make of it given that he knows at a roughly level altitude that Aslan's very name gives him unpleasant feelings? Deep down in the basement somewhere is the knowledge that the White Witch is evil, meanwhile on the same floor as Edmund is the knowledge that Aslan is so bad is very name causes discomfort.

I don't blame him for glossing over the deep down knowledge when the surface problem seems so much more immediate. After all, how bad can the Witch really be when her name doesn't cause immediate discomfort? Maybe she isn't even a Witch, maybe she's a Which.

Izzy said...

It's an interesting struggle, balancing culpability and redeemability. On the one hand, if you're writing a temporary villain, even if "temporary" means Redemption Equals Death, you want him to have some good sides, some reasons for doing what he does that aren't the "meh, nobody asked me to the Prom and I drowned because some counselors were having sex and this other ninja stole my girlfriend" sort of thing. You want him to be somewhat sympathetic.

On the other hand, at least for me, there *is* a point where...yeah, bad guy, you should have known better. You're taking advice from a guy who's called "Darth Plagus" and killing children; you're selling out to the Eldritch Abomination that uses fear as a weapon; your ex-girlfriend has told you fifteen times to stop fucking calling her; and so forth. There's a point where continuing to see yourself in the right/as a victim becomes another aspect of your villainy.*

I feel like Edmund's arc here would have worked fine without the "of course he really knew" thing. He's making excuses for the Witch--sure, that's reasonable in context, since the other side hasn't shown him any proof. Then he's walking along to her house, he sees a stone lion. Okay, that's some proof, but...he knows Aslan's her enemy, maybe she was defending herself. Drawing on it is still a pretty good MEH--demeaning prisoners of war is generally considered No Good--but even here, you could have him getting more and more freaked out, but still being okay with the Witch.

And then HOLY SHIT ALL THE STATUES. This, right here, is pretty good evidence that Jadis is, at best, more than slightly ruthless, not to mention bloodthirsty: she's keeping the bodies of her enemies at the entrance to her castle. This could very easily have been that point where you could use "it wasn't a very good excuse" and have it mean something more.

*See also: Republicans.

Kit Whitfield said...

Drawing a tash on a statue might be a good gesture. My problem with it is that Edmund hasn't been established so far as the kind of person who'd do that. He makes fun of his little sister when she appears to be telling sky-high fibs and when he finds out he was wrong he doesn't want to admit it; he accepts food from an intimidating woman; that's about the size of it. To make it fly, you'd need him to be worse previously.

Part of the reason, I think, is that there are two ways to go. You could make him a complete jerk, but that creates a problem with his redemption. Alternatively, you could portray him as someone who's confused and suffering and taking it out on those around him, which is a better way to go; that makes you want to see him redeemed while also holding him responsible. The problem with that is that it'd call his siblings to account: if Edmund was unhappy enough to act badly, the sainted Peter and Lucy should be trying to help him, not finding fault with him at every turn. Neither is acceptable.

Hence we get this unsatisfactory sense of predetermined badness which feels more like Lewis is forcing the issue for the sake of the plot.

Michael Mock said...

"The children are in a magical land that is in a state of civil war. The disputed ruling power has approached Edmund with apparent friendship, and has additionally plied him with magical food (the effect of which is so powerful that supposedly it changes the aspect of one's face and bearing such that other Narnians can recognize those who have been magicked up). Rather than parlaying with this ruling power, the other children have thrown their lot in with a family of beavers who spout racist remarks and conspiracy theories about the queen maybe turning people to stone, and claim that a lion no one has seen for a hundred years is going to magically turn up and make everything better if only they all get out in the snow and walk several miles to some table in the middle of nowhere, just as soon as they finish the marmalade roll."

You know, under those circumstances - and ignoring, for the moment, Edmund's having eaten the Enchantingly Addictive Dessert - the whole lot of them would be well advised to turn on their heels, head back to the wardrobe, and nail the bloody thing closed.

Again I find myself thinking of Eric, the "cowardly" Cavalier from the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. "What are we doing here?" he might ask. "We know this is a bad situation, maybe a terrible one. Why are we blithely walking on into it? Why don't we just leave?" And he had a magic shield; the Pevensies have nothing but a pair of non-combatant beavers on their side of the tally sheet.

And that assumes that the beavers are on the up-and-up. Nobody's thought to inquire whether this plan to bring Aslan back might require a proper human sacrifice or three. In fact...

* * *

"I'm so very tired," Peter admitted, sitting back from the table.

"So am I," said Lucy, stifling a yawn with her napkin. Their sister was already asleep, snoring gently with her head on the low table.

Something, Peter realized, was terribly wrong. He had to stand up, to rally the others, to get them out of here... but his mind wouldn't focus, and his limbs were far too heavy. Darkness was creeping in around the edges of his vision, and now it swallowed him.

"Wrap them up warmly," said Mrs. Beaver to her husband. "We can't have them freezing before we get them to the table."

"We'll need help to carry them," Mr Beaver remarked, but Mrs. Beaver was already moving towards the door. The neighbors were not close, but they would come. None of them would miss a chance like this, a chance to call Aslan back. Imagine the luck! Not just a single Daughter of Eve, but two of them - and a Son of Adam as well. It was a pity that the other one had escaped, but even if he went straight to the Queen it wouldn't matter. There was no way he could reach her in time to prevent the sacrifice that would bring the Lion to their aid - and after that, what the Queen knew or learned would no longer matter.

Ana Mardoll said...

Michael! Actual shivers over here. Nicely done!

Samantha C said...

"If Edmund really knows that the White Witch is evil and is going to turn his siblings to stone (or worse), he has to realize that he isn't going to fare much better. And if he knows that, then the only reason for him to walk out into the cold winter night and walk determinedly to her house is if he has a death wish or is so stubborn and unwilling to make up with his siblings that he's willing to die over his stubbornness."

It's not strictly relevant, but all I can think about is the way I decided to handle Harley Quinn in a fanfiction series I was writing. There aren't a great many reasons that someone would willingly stay by someone as incredibly dangerous as the Joker, especially once he's involved her in crimes and rampages that leave no doubt about his nature. I thought it could be a simple low self-esteem - "no one else will ever have me, so I have to stay here." It could have been a thirst for danger and thrill - the high of never knowing when he'll turn on her and the risk of staying.

Eventually, I landed on a strange combination that made perfect sense to me. He's convinced her that no matter how dangerous and mad he is, SHE is safe. She's the only person in the whole wide world who matters so much that he won't hurt her. He's dangerous to everyone else, but not to her. It taps into a self-esteem thirsty for that kind of validation, along with the need for excitement and thrill.

So I guess that's all just saying, I can imagine a character who knows, for sure, that their patron/master/beloved is evil and dangerous, and fully believe THEY won't come to any danger. I can imagine an Edmund who believes that, being the Witch's favorite and all, he can convince her just to rough his siblings up until they acknowledge him, and then the whole thing can be over with.

Doesn't make them right ;)

depizan said...

Two things strike me about this passage. Okay, actually, one struck me about it when I read it ages ago. Anyway. I have trouble with Edmund knowing, deep down or otherwise, that the Witch is evil. If he were portrayed as having some nagging sense that something wasn't right - similar to what he feels when Aslan's name is mentioned, perhaps, that would read better, at least to me. But (and this might be where Lewis and I part company), I don't believe people go around thinking to themselves "I know X is evil, but I think I'll ally myself to them anyway." Oh, people ally themselves to evil people and ideas all the time, but they do it by convincing themselves that it's not evil, the people effected by it aren't people, the people effected by it deserve it, the people effected by it have other options, etc, etc. Edmund sort of does this when he thinks about ruling and his siblings being punished, but I think the whole thing would've been far more powerful if Edmund's self delusions about the Witch were played up, if Lewis had trusted his audience to see the delusion under what he was telling himself.

The other, the one that struck me as a child, is that Edmund's behavior with the lion has another interpretation. Edmund was frightened by the lion, he's frightened by his situation, and he's acting out in a really juvenile way to make himself feel better - mocking what scares him. And it doesn't really work. (Interestingly, the text even admits that Edmund didn't enjoy it.) I always thought Edmund's Moral Event Horizon was when, after crossing the courtyard of statues, he still tells the Witch about his siblings. Holy crap, Edmund, she's got a courtyard of statues! This is not going to go well for them or you. (Maybe it's more of a Crowning Moment of Stupidity, because, really, running away seems like the best option at this point.) Though, from the way he acts, I kind of suspect he's under compulsion. "I'm come, your Majesty," said Edmund, rushing eagerly forward. does not strike me as rational behavior here.

chris the cynic said...

The queen lost all composure, "Aslan! Are you sure they mentioned Aslan?!"

Edmund shank back, "Yes your-"

"Did they say anything about a stone table?" Edmund said nothing, "Quickly, boy!"

Edmund said a weak, "Yes."

The Queen was on the move, shouting orders and packing up objects Edmund didn't recognize, "Ready my sleigh. Gather our forces. Send out the crows. Tell them to contact every solider, every spy, every civilian and give orders to slow down those Beavers. Whatever it takes stop them from getting to the table," a large Bat landed next to her, "Take this," she handed it her wand, "At a hillock near the table, the one that stands alone to the south east, you'll find a tunnel leading to a secret chamber where some of our greatest warriors wait in stone. Wake them. Tell them the Aslanites are on the move and they have children of Adam. Tell them to hold the line until I arrive."

"Yes your majesty," the Bat said and, taking the wand in his feet, flew away.

The queen turned to a Wolf, "We don't have time to organize, get everyone on the move. We'll meet at the table. We have to stop those Beavers."

"And when we stop them," the Wolf asked, "May we eat them?"

For a moment the queen was speechless, then she said, "Yes. Anyone involved in the sacrifice is fair game."

The Wolf smiled, bowed, and ran from the room.

The queen looked around the room, quickly, to see if she had forgotten anything, then told Edmund, "We're leaving."

Edmund took a step back, "I don't understand."

"And I don't have time." She picked Edmund up and hurried towards her sled.

When they were underway Edmund asked nervously asked, "What's going on."

"The Beavers intended to sacrifice your brothers and sisters. Their blood will bring Aslan back." Edmund's eyes grew wide and for the first time in his life he felt pure terror, "Don't worry. We're going to save them. We don't have much of a choice, the world depends on it."

Ana Mardoll said...

Well, no. Because whether or not his faith was "mistaken", whether or not he *wanted* his brother and sisters to die... as we like to say, Intent Is Not F*cking Magic. I'm sure he didn't intentionally set up his siblings for a horrible death, and that he just wanted to get a little payback and ego-stroking; but let's face it, Edmund IS guilty.

But that's not what Intent Is Not Magic means, at least not to me.

"Intent Is Not Magic" is meant to point out that the harm of your actions exists regardless of your intent. So I may not have MEANT to be ableist and hurtful when I was calling myself "crazy Ana" on the internet (thank you again so much for the "zany" replacement), but my intention wasn't a magical shield that protected readers from being triggered by my words.

Intent IS magic when it comes to handing out punishments in a just system. We have multiple different designations for, say, "causing the death of another person" ranging from "man, what a tragic accident, but no one is reasonably at fault" to "ok, off to jail with you for eternity because you are a danger to society". And I would expect intent to be magic in a justice system set up by a just god.

If the Narnia-God-Emperor puts Edmund to death for the result of his actions without weighing his intent, he may be a *consistent* god, but most people would consider him unjust. See also the Star Trek planet where Wesley Crusher is sentenced to death.

Ana Mardoll said...

"And when we stop them," the Wolf asked, "May we eat them?"

This cracked me up, because when I had a dog, that's pretty much what he would have asked.

"Food?"
"Um. Sure. OK. Just go."
"Food!"

hapax said...

Mmmhh.

Mind you, I don't disagree with the major thrust of your point, but I'm anti-death penalty anyways. I can't think of ANY crime that deserves execution.

(And I'm quite sure that Lewis was all for capital punishment, so what follows is "young hapax's reading of this", not anything that it's inherent in the text, or my opinion now.)

It wasn't -- perzacktly -- that the Emperor punishes treason with death, as judge, jury, and executioner. It was more like, hmmm, something built in the structure of the universe: if a stone is dropped, it will fall to the ground. If a betrayal occurs, someone has to die. That's how I always read Jadis's argument; it didn't particularly matter if Edmund was killed, so long as she got to kill someone, and why not him?

Which is pretty much the understanding of the Fall in the Christian tradition that Lewis drew from, by the way. It's not that Adam (and his descendents) deserved to die for eating an apple, or were punished with death; it's just that once disobedience entered Creation, death followed as a natural consequence. In this context, the willing sacrifice of Jesus both fulfilled the set conditions (he did die, after all, as all humans must) but by his perfect obedience somehow reversed and cancelled out the Original Disobedience.

(Note: this isn't *my* theory of the Atonement, fwiw. But it was more likely that it was this understanding that Lewis was working with in the Narnia allegory. It's the only thing that *could* make sense, given that the Original Sin never happened in Narnia, as we see in MN)

Now you could say that that's a lousy, unfair way to design a universe, and I couldn't call you wrong. It's one of those cases where I'd have to punt and call on that whole ineffy-affy Mystery business (or, as I think Ruby would say, "Look! A hippo!")

My only (weak) rejoinder would be that, while on the whole I approve of this whole gravity business, I am deeply resentful that it can't be suspended when I think it would be right and fair. So perhaps my design sense for how a universe should be constructed isn't entirely trustworthy.

Ana Mardoll said...

That's the most sympathetic explanation I've ever heard for Atonement theory, so thank you for that. :)

For me, it hinges on whether or not a Triple-O (omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent) being orchestrated it all or is simply subject to it all. If GOD is just a participant in all this, and subject to the same Deep Magic laws that we all are, then I guess we're all in this together and GOD is doing the best GOD can.*

But if GOD is Triple-O and was the one who put the Deep Magic rules in place, then any innocents caught by the Deep Magic rules were innocents that GOD *knew* would be caught. If GOD implemented Deep Magic that GOD knew would catch innocents, then GOD is not just by any sense of the word I know. (Indeed, GOD should be put to death because GOD's actions resulted in an innocent's death. What, the Deep Magic rules don't apply to GOD, too? This is not fair at all. :P)

If GOD implemented the Deep Magic and if GOD is just, then Edmund *has* to be guilty. Not Lewis' fault, really. But if Edmund had to be deserving of death, then (a) he really should have been older, in my opinion, and (b) he really should have done way way worse. (And the magically compelling food probably should have been axed.) But that always mucks with the redemption aspect of writing, I know.

I tend to lean on the theory that Lewis was too constrained by his starting analogy, really. :/ His editor should have caught all this, but meh.

* And this is, incidentally, how many Wiccans view gods -- elevated beings constrained by some of the same rules of the physical universe. It's a handy way of bypassing the "why does a caring god allow suffering?" Answer: "They can't stop it any more than we can!"

Michael Mock said...

Mr. Beaver raced through the snow, following the sling that carried the Son of Adam. It was being pulled by a bear, whose appearance represented another stroke of nearly unbelievable luck. Surely the sacrifice was favored; it seemed that Aslan was arranging things to enable His return.

Behind Mr. Beaver, a pair of deer dragged the bundled form of the older Daughter of Eve. They lacked the raw strength of the bear, but they managed well enough. He was still looking back at them when a low growl yanked his attention back to the bear, who swerved to the side with an answering snarl.

A wolf blocked their path. "Foolish beasts," said the wolf. "You rebel against your queen! Stop now and forswear this treason, and perhaps you will live!"

"She can't hold back Christmas forever," rumbled the bear. "And you can't stop us all!" With that, the bear lunged forward again, brushing the wolf aside with one massive shoulder. The deer raced away to the left, dragging their burden with them, while the faun who bore the other, smaller Daughter of Eve darted off the right.

The wolf bit at the bear's side, and Mr. Beaverput on a burst of speed, shouting as he came up behind the wolf. The wolf glared back at him, and at that moment the bear dealt the wolf a terrific blow with one massive paw. The wolf shrieked and tumbled to the side.

"Well done, my friend," said the bear. "Now, on to the table!"

Thomas Keyton said...

If anyone wants to dig up what, if anything, "Maugrim" alludes to and when and why it was changed to "Fenris Ulf" for some issues of the novel, I'd love to hear the story behind our chief of police here.

Delurking (for a fairly trivial reason) to say that Wikipedia cites a book called "The Way Into Narnia" saying that Lewis himself changed the name in the early USian editions, but doesn't give any actual reason.

Also, the discussion of Edmund's near-constant suffering reminds me a bit of Draco Malfy, in that his onscreen unpleasant and evil deeds seem outweighed by his onscreen comeuppances, injuries, and humiliations (and of course, his implied offscreen experiences with Voldemort as a houseguest). I think Rowling stated somewhere that she was influenced by Lewis, but do more experienced readers know if this sort of thing is particularly common?

Ana Mardoll said...

I'll take delurking however I can get it! Thank you. :D

I wonder if there's not some sort of karmic law of narrative. Something like "ensure that your villain deserves worse than any constant pain and suffering you may inflict on them in text, or you risk making your villain sympathetic by virtue of karmic unfairness."?

chris the cynic said...

I want to write more, truly I do, but I haven't figured out how the Giant Squid got so far inland yet. Is there any flying beast in Narnia powerful enough to carry it? Probably not. Perhaps multiple Pterodactyls, working in unison ... can I make this into the "Well an African Swallow could," scene from Monty Python as delivered by a Squirrel and a Chipmunk?

This requires thought.

Michael Mock said...

" I haven't figured out how the Giant Squid got so far inland yet."

Maybe it hitched a ride atop a very large rhinocerous?

chris the cynic said...

That's possible.

I do have a certain fondness for the idea of large sea creatures being dropped from above, though. Or at least launched. I also have this dialog in my head:

"Majesty, we've won!"

"Good. Get the artillery back to the ocean before they dry out."

-

Just imagine Aslan's army trying to hold ranks when the Sharks are incoming. Of course they'd have to be very brave Sharks because they're not exactly very maneuverable once they've landed. (Imagine a poor flopping Great White surrounded by furry woodland creatures with spears.)

Rikalous said...

A Roc could carry a Giant Squid. Their whole schtick is being gigantic and flying. You could handwave the Roc never showing up before or since by saying that it spends most of its time elsewhere, where there's enough whales and elephants or whatever to eat.

-

Aslan did some physical rejiggering to the Animals, right? Making some of them larger and giving them mouths that can make English words? Those Sharks might be more maneuverable on land than you'd think.

Rikalous said...

I don't know about a karmic law of narrative, but There's A Trope For That (TM)*, which is the next best thing.

*Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain

Ana Mardoll said...

hapax, I have tears in my eyes. You are superlative. You win all the internets forever.

Rikalous, thank you! I was thinking there had to be something like that already.

Rikalous said...

One thing that struck me when I was reading this is that the grisly garden of granite includes Wolves. Not just one token not-evil Wolf, but Wolves plural, and apparently a whole mess of them if there's enough to make an impression. That's gratifying to me, because I tend to be annoyed be the always-evil races, especially talking animals. It's good to know that not all Wolves were fine with becoming Jadis's personal hit squad.

mmy said...

If anyone wants to dig up what, if anything, "Maugrim" alludes to

When I first read it I assumed it was created out of "maul" and "megrim" (a dangerous fancy.)

Dav said...

mmy, I like that tremendously. I was thinking of maw and grim, which works, but doesn't convey quite the tone I think of when I think of the Chief of Secret Police. (Surely that is not his actual job title.)

Ana Mardoll said...

(Also I think you're a better person than I am because you suggest that Edmund's siblings (who were also children, remember) should have treated his sullenness and jabs with sympathy and comfort.

Aw, shucks. :D

It's not that I expected Peter/Lucy/Susan to sit Edmund down and psychoanalyze him so much as... they don't seem to have the curiosity I would expect given the situation.

I mean... Edmund has been in a MAGICAL LAND. When that penny dropped, I would expect that in the wake of "what a jerk to lie to us" at least someone would say "what did you do while you were here?"

There's a good chance that anything Edmund says would be suspicious enough to trigger alarm bells in the childrens' minds, especially since Mr. Tumnus house has been so recently ransacked. And once those alarm bells go off, the children would have been watching Edmund more closely and he wouldn't have been able to slip away. I'm pretty sure Peter and Mr. Beaver could have handled Edmund, and Mrs. Beaver probably had some rope handy.

So basically, the author seems to get around the problem by, ah, not letting the characters think about it. This would be defensible if there's a lot going on, but they're walking in the snow for FOREVER before they meet Mr. Beaver. My mind would go to the wait, if Ed was here before, what did he do place pretty quickly.

Mime_Paradox said...

Alternate explanation: Jadis is really not the type to take failure well. Not that yours isn't a perfectly valid interpretation, but does the book give more context?

Ana Mardoll said...

Aw, man. I'd gone with the "nice wolves" too, but you're probably right that at least a few of them screwed up on the job and this is Jadis' version of a lousy performance review. :(

chris the cynic said...

There's another possibility as well. What if they're not nice Wolves, but neither do they like Jadis? As Will pointed out at some point, Always Chaotic Evil doesn't necessarily mean that you'll fall in line behind the local despot. They could be part of the "Winter Sucks," coalition of evil Wolves.

Michael Mock said...

Thanks, Hapax. I needed that.

As for the petrified wolves, maybe they just got tired of waiting for their Christmas presents?

Amaryllis said...

hapax, you are brilliant. There's no more to say.

"Maugrim" makes me think of "maugre," in spite of. "We rather like Edmund, maugre his faults."

On looking it up, I find that the root is from the French, mal gre, ill will or ill favor. Thus Maugrim may be meant to connote grim-spiteful-ugly-evil intentions.

I like it rather better than Fenris Ulf, actually. Or at least it sounds to me more English-- or Anglo-Norman, I suppose-- anyway, more suitable for this English story. But I suppose that Fenris Ulf sounded more "Northern," and Lewis had this whole Northern-ness thing going on with the later books.

Rikalous said...

The "performance review" and "evil factions" sound more plausible, since I don't think any decent Wolves are every mentioned in all seven books. Dogs work with the good guys in The Last Battle, though.

I was about to hypothesize an evolution of vicious Wolves into less aggressive Dogs in the centuries since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe*, but then I remembered that there was a Dog in The Magician's Nephew. Dangnabbit.

*According to what I remember of an educational film I saw back in high school, wolves bred for docility developed doggish floppy ears and patchy coats. Given the fact that both heroes and Calormen tyrants would take a dim view of viciousness, and the relatively short canine life cycle, the shift seemed plausible.

chris the cynic said...

While it is probably the case that the film you saw and the film I saw are completely different films, I think it's more likely that you're thinking of foxes which ended up with doggish floppy ears, and patchy coats, and doggish tails, and in general dog like features.

That is traditionally pointed to, in my experience, when discussing how dogs became dogs since it's theorized that the same process occurred, on a much longer scale and probably without conscious intent, to create dogs from wolves.

I don't think a breeding program with wolves has had that result. (As far as I know no such breeding program has existed.) If one has then it's very odd that I always see people pointing at the fox experiment when talking about how dogs stopped being wolves.

Rikalous said...

It's probably the foxes thing, then. My memory of the event is suspect.

The Dread Pirate Matt said...

Oddly, Fenris Ulf (in Norse mythology: Fenris&uacc;lfr) is closer (linguistically at least) to the "Anglo" part.

As to why the name was changed? Best suggestion I've heard was that it tied closer to the elements of Norse mythology in the stories (e.g. the World Ash -- Yggdrasil), since Fenris&uacc;lfr was the son of Loki foretold to slay Odin.

The Dread Pirate Matt said...

Damned HTML characters. FenrisĂșlfr, that should read.

Makabit said...

Other things that 'Maugrim' brings to mind is of course the English word 'grim', and also the French 'maudit', 'cursed'.

Also, there's the English 'church grim', a spirit which sometimes appears as a black dog.

Silver Adept said...

In this entire scene, I'm very inclined to give Edmund the benefit of the "still under mind-control" doubt, considering that if Edmund's eyes are still visibly changed, the Turkish Delight is probably still having an effect on him. That is how the trope goes, I believe.

And if that were the case, even though Edmund knows what he's doing is wrong, if the compulsion is there, then he'll still do what Jadis wants. If this is eventually supposed to be Allegorical, shouldn't we have a pre-requisite of Free Will involved, where Edmund does something that's clearly villainous and there's no compulsion or Magic Candy involved? Then he can have his Moral Event Horizon free and clear of the suspicion that Edmund isn't in his right mind.

depizan said...

Well, as I said, I don't think he's acting under his own volition. I don't think he'd run up to the Witch like she's a long lost friend if he weren't bespelled. The statue garden should give him some doubt, and it really doesn't seem to. He seems to believe that they're magicked people and yet doesn't really act like he does. (Other than, perhaps, the false bravado with the lion.)

I just think if there is a Moral Event Horizon to be had here, selling out his siblings after going through the garden seems more appropriate than some harmless graffiti. (We're not given any reason to think that the doodles will do the lion any harm when s/he becomes a real lion again.) But, as you point out, I don't know that we can really judge someone under a spell as doing something of their own free will. Which is one of the reasons I've always had trouble with Edmund as Traitor. Does he know what he's doing? Can he know what he's doing?

Kit Whitfield said...

Regarding Maugrim: it may be related to 'Isengrim', which is a traditional name for the wolf in medieval beast fables about Reynard the fox.

Bificommander said...

What I find ammusing is that the wolf is part of the Secret Police, empathis on Secret. He's a wolf. The statues notwithstanding, I understand that every single wolf we see moving is in fact evil. That puts a bit of a damper on the whole Secret part doesn't it? He'll be even less subtle than Herr Flick.

I do find it interesting that Edmund only seems to doodle on what he thinks is Aslan. We saw before that the mere mention of Aslan's name makes him uncomfortable. We're supposed to see this as proof that he's evil (actually, is it because he's always been a bit of a bully or because he's eaten the magic fruit and has been forced to become a servant of evil? The latter would be problematic), but I still find it troubling. If your mere name really causes physical discomfort in certain people, can you blame them for not liking you? Plus, if we're still treating this as an allagory, I dislike it because it suggest that non-Christians hate Jesus, a-la Left Behind's Jesus-hating-Jews, and can't even stand hearing his name. I don't know any atheists like that. When we dislike hearing about Jesus, it's often because the messenger who tells us is rude, patronizing, or demands that we do his bidding because Jesus wants it too. Or as the T-shirt says, "I have nothing against God, it's his fanclub I can't stand."

On that subject, Ana, my thumbs up for your problems with the Attonement/sacrifice explanation. I made the same argument after Fred's post on Glurge stories, specifically the train story that is supposed to make us feel sorry for God that he had to kill his own son to save us so how dare we not drop down on our knees in gratitude. Ignoring the fact that I don't believe it, it didn't make much sense to me either that we should be gratefull that God killed his son to bypass the rules from God that said that all the humans made by God did not meet the standards set by God and were thus doomed to an afterlife of eternal torment made by God. For it to make any sense, God can't be an ominpotent creator. If God is doing the best he can, I'm willing to sympathise, assuming someone can convince me he (probably) exists. But when he's the all-powerfull all-knowing with no rules but the ones he made, he could've used some other way to redeem mankind than killing Jesus.

Will Wildman said...

But when he's the all-powerfull all-knowing with no rules but the ones he made, he could've used some other way to redeem mankind than killing Jesus.

Maybe this isn't the place to ask this question, which is probably kind of enormous, but mayhap there is someone who can shed some light on where I'm off.

I've never been totally clear on the origin of the idea that it was specifically Jesus' death that was the key to saving everyone. I know it's a commonly understood thing, but I don't quite get where it came from, and it doesn't logically hold together for me, partly because of the above thing wherein God agonisingly follows the rules that He appears to have arbitrarily set.

Jesus shows up on Earth, isn't seen for a while, becomes prominent, teaches and warns people a whole lot of stuff, and is executed for causing trouble for the establishment. His teachings and warnings tend to boil down to 'I am trying to be very, very good to absolutely everyone, and you should try to follow my example, or else there will be terrible consequences'. It seems to me - uninformed as I am compared to theologians - that he was very big on the 'follow my example, even though it seems backwards and nonsensical, because it is the only way to good things - follow my example no matter what'. And then he gets executed.

And it seems to me like the message there is "Do the right thing, even when it's hard, even if people will hate you for it, even if you will die for it. Do the right thing regardless of the consequences. I know those consequences are bad. Watch, I'll take them on myself. I know what I'm asking you to do."

Is Jesus quoted as having said that it was his participation in a blood sacrifice that would purify everyone, or was that a later interpretation of events? The more I learn about Christianity, the more I feel like in modern interpretations there's a hyperfocus on the magical power of his death and everything else gets swept aside, but the parts that get swept aside are the ones that don't imply that God might be following perverse troll logic.

DavidCheatham said...

If I found myself in a magical land where hearing the name of someone caused me _discomfort_ despite never having heard of them, I think I'd probably assume they were the villain of the story. Especially if told they were some sort of magical entity about to come back now that I was there, and seize power. (And I'd be sure not to say their name three times in a row.)

Names Have Power in fantasy, and being warned away from saying specific names by some sort of background magic would seem to be sort of the magical equivalent not liking the smell of rotted meat. It's not just a smell, it's an evolutionary defense to warn you aware from eating it. Sometimes things smell like rotted meat that are safe, and perhaps Aslan isn't that dangerous, but we probably should be wary of him too if that's what our senses are impossibly telling us, despite never having heard of him.

I don't know how exactly we're supposed to condemn that assumption, especially as the other children, and the narration, make the exact same assumption, it's just they're feeling the opposite way when they hear 'Aslan'.

So not only has Edmund had his mind probably tampered with in other ways, he's actually perceiving reality wrong, right there in the text. In Narnia, there's some sort of background magic that makes you like Aslan despite never having heard of him. Even if we don't call that 'mind control', and merely a 'perception', merely a 'smell', Edmund's perception is actively backwards compared to everyone else's.

Divya Jagadeesan said...

Hi Ana, another delurker here, first time commenting so sorry If my thoughts seem all over the place. Also Hapax has said everything that I could ever want to say much much more eloquently.
I would have thought that Lewis put in the bit about Edmund finding Aslan's name discomfiting because Edmund is already considered as "tainted" at this point. He has betrayal in his heart, he means his siblings some measure of harm. So his reaction is similar to that of a student who intends to cheat on his test, hearing about an extra eagle-eyed invigilator being on the job. When I first read these books as a kid , Edmund's moral event horizon came much earlier when he lied about visiting Narnia to discredit Lucy. I suppose I could identify with the feeling of turning to someone with trust and having them scornfully laugh back in your face out of nothing but spite. I do feel much more sympathetic to Edmund now than I did then but I did ultimately like him even back then. I suppose it was because he, Eustace and to some measure Diggory where the only ones who had some sort of character arc I think.

Thomas Keyton said...

What I find ammusing is that the wolf is part of the Secret Police, empathis on Secret. He's a wolf

Maybe Maugrim mainly has desk duties*? It could be that the actual spying is done by cute little bunnies or insects (assuming that the growth all the Talking Animals experienced in MN kept any such insects small enough to be nigh-unnoticeable), and Maugrim only turns up for high-profile arrests and the like.

*I'm now wondering how Maugrim managed to write the note about Mr Tumnus' arrest while being a quadruped. Reepicheep walked on his hind legs but every other large-ish animal is always portrayed as quadrupedal, as far as I can remember.

Ana Mardoll said...

@Thomas,

I wondered that as well. This is actually An Issue in the Narnia community, though, because no one knows how Aslan walks.

The general consensus is that Aslan walks on all fours, because an "upright" walk (like a man) would look... silly. Well, I think it would, and it would seem I'm not the only one. But the illustrator for the book has a drawing of Aslan walking like a man in one scene. And Lewis seems not to have completely, 100% disavowed the image. So it's all fuzzy as to whether the animals are bipedal or quadrupedal or ambipedal (sp?).

One would assume that the Beavers would have to be somewhat human-ish in order to work frying pans and sewing machines and the like. It's a bit of a mess.

hapax said...

Lewis sort-of addresses this in MN, which in the Big Scene where Aslan bestows the "gift of speech" upon the selected animals, Lewis does describe them as sitting on their back legs as though to understand better. (That's not an exact quote, but iirc it's pretty close)

Notice, however, that he is coy about *which* animals, and whether or not they become *customarily* bipedal.

Frex, Shift the Ape (in LB) insists on wearing shoes and walking on his hind legs, as part of his claim to be "really" a Man. But the shoes fit badly and he walks awkwardly.

So... ??

Ana Mardoll said...

The funny thing is, back when I got the ebooks and was glancing through LWW and saw the picture I was like WHAT? NO! WHAT? THAT WAS A MAJOR THEOLOGICAL POINT IN LB. *goes and reads LB* Huh. No, it wasn't. How odd.

I had remembered that Frex insists that Aslan walks like a man because otherwise he's "just like any other lion" and this is a heresy of some kind, but apparently my brain had mixed LB with some other book from my childhood. I still don't know what book it was. That bothers me. Maybe something by L'Engle? I can't go back and check -- those books creep me out now. o.O

Ana Mardoll said...

Hmm, maybe, but I remember the *walking upright* being an issue. Hmm,

Dezster said...

I think it would be interesting to read a deconstruction by you on A Wrinkle in Time, Ana!

chris the cynic said...

A Wrinkle in Time is, assuming I'm remembering correctly because it's been so long, what forms the foundation of my belief that being triple omni would be a living hell where one was constantly tempted to become the most evil being imaginable because it seemed preferable to the alternative.

And also so very, very easy.

Just the smallest of nudges.

Rikalous said...

I figure if Maugrim/Fenris Ulf was supposed to be secret, he wouldn't be signing his name. He's not the guy shmoozing with suspicious cases, he's the menacing face of the organization. When you see him enter a house, you know the residents are screwed.

Rikalous said...

Gorillas knuckle around on all fours sometimes, but they can still use their hands. Maugrim can also form English sounds, which no actual wolf can do. I figure that the growth scene you mentioned gave Wolves and various others that oh-so-useful manual dexterity along with the powers of speech and reason.

(Whew, now I don't have to feel silly for only posting stuff you already said)

Steve Morrison said...

I thought the same. It’s not as if Reinhard Heydrich’s identity was kept carefully secret, or Nikolai Yezhov’s!

Kit Whitfield said...

True - but 'secret police' doesn't necessarily mean you don't know who runs the organisation. It means they operate in secret: they 'disappear' people rather than arresting them openly; they persecute people without having to identify why; they imprison or kill people without public trials. It's what they do rather than who they are that's a secret. The secret police are secret because they're unaccountable rather than because nobody knows they exist. After all, if nobody knows there are secret police operating in the shadows, they won't know to be afraid, and that rather defeats the point.

Bificommander said...

Well, I guess it could be a secret police like the US secret service, who don't bother to hide much. Their tuxes are practically uniforms. But I think the secret service does occasionally do plain(er)-cloths investigations. That kinda goes out of the window if your members are all visibly identifiable as belonging to the regime from 100 yards away. I also guess they call it the Secret Police to show the readers it is the scary terror squad. But I just found the idea of this wolf literally donning sheeps clothing (and a pair of sunglasses) to infiltrate a sheep resistance group too funny not to mention.

Ana Mardoll said...

Jadis' reign seems to be a strange combination of contradictions. They sign papers and leave them around saying "secret police" which seems somewhat UN-secret, but then apparently nobody knows FOR SURE that there are statues in Jadis' garden, it's just a lot of rumor and innuendo.

It seems to me, and mind you I have no experience running an evil dictatorship for 100 years, that Jadis is taking a very strange mix of hands-on/hands-off approach. She stones people who represent a threat to her power (or who fail or betray her) but she apparently hasn't really taken the whole thing farther than, say, 100 statues? 200? How big can her lawn be, really? Let's say 1,000? So she's stoning maybe 10 people a year for 100 years? For an entire country? There are worse ways to be an evil dictator.

Now, you could argue that the statues aren't all in her lawn or that the police sometimes just EAT PEOPLE, but the implication to me in text is that Aslan makes everything all better and no harm done. 'Course, we don't get to see the sorrow and horror of an animal stoned in Year 1 and now his whole family is gone, but that's what Prince Caspian is for! Yay!

Ana Mardoll said...

I think it would be interesting to read a deconstruction by you on A Wrinkle in Time, Ana!

Gah. The Narnia decons aren't negative enough? :P

We can put it to a vote. I wanted to like L'Engle SO MUCH as a kid, but I found a lot of squick in the books. The heavy-handed emphasis on virginity in Book 3 was really heavy-handed. (Remember kids: sex means no unicorns ever.) The highly sexualized depictions of the angels in Book 3 was in some ways a little over-the-top. The twins fighting over the girl and wanting to take her back to modern earth (OMG SCARY?) and then the angels taking her to the moon instead and EVERYONE IN THAT BOOK DIED IN THE FLOOD sort of drove home for the first time how barbaric and awful the flood was... but I'm not sure that was the author's point.

Book 4 had a LOT of biology fail in it, since the whole plot seemed to be using time travel to get the modern-day political leader the "right" set of properly adjusted ancestors and also he had to have BLUE EYES and the NATIVE AMERICAN WOMEN DON'T SCREAM DURING CHILDBIRTH BECAUSE THEY'RE TOUGH. I found that problematic as a young adult in a way that I never found, say, the casual racism in Narnia problematic.

I've been informed, though, that I'm the only person on earth who doesn't like L'Engle's books, so I think there's just something wrong with me.

depizan said...

Not the only person. I've read A Wrinkle in Time twice (just in cast I was too young when I read it the first time) and found it boring and incomprehensible both times.

Will Wildman said...

(Remember kids: sex means no unicorns ever.)

The hipster in me wants this on a t-shirt. I'm intrigued, as someone who's never read L'Engle, because I have only ever heard uniformly good things about her books, especially Wrinkle In Time. If I do feel the need to start a dissection/review series on my own blog, perhaps that's where to start.

I think Kit's got it with the (secret) police, in that everyone knows they exist but no one gets to see how they work (except those who are never going to get the chance to tell anyone). As for the statues, I kind of get the impression that it's not so much the presence of the statues as it is their nature that is a matter of rumour: "And you know all those statues the Witch has in her yard? They say they used to be proper living Animals until she cast a spell on them for disobeying!" Maybe they're her favourite trophies - the ones who tried to plot against her, sitting frozen on her lawn where she can look out the windows and just watch them stay defeated for the rest of eternity, whereas Animals who simply break her rules (whatever those are) and are also delicious become police snacks.

chris the cynic said...

[Oh, hey, comment I forgot to post hours ago.]

There is a joke from the Soviet Union that sort of highlights the problem with the secret police.

A bunch of sheep show up at a border checkpoint.
Border Guard: Why do you want to leave Russia.
Sheep: It's the secret police. The central committee has ordered them to arrest all elephants.
Border Guard: But you are not elephants.
Sheep: Try telling that to the secret police.

As Kit says, the problem isn't that you don't know who they are, the problem is that they're not accountable. They get to disappear you and you never get a day in court where you're allowed to argue, "I'm not an elephant."

Rowen said...

It took me a minute to figure out what you were talking about cause I always viewed them as the other way around (Planet being book 3, and Waters being book 4).

Ana Mardoll said...

Whoops! That was the order they were given to me in, but are there publisher-ordering shenanigans like there are with the Lewis Narnia books?

Rowen said...

In response to the whole "secret police" angle, I'm rereading Perdido Street Station, and in it, most of the citizens seem to understand that the militia could come in at any time and bust them all up, especially since there's one scene that talks about random people that you wouldn't expect, suddenly pulling out masks and hauling someone away, neither person to be seen again. Maybe a body found in the river or something. Yet, the whole city knows who the mayor is, and where the police headquarters are and such. I kinda viewed it like that. You don't know which trees are on your side, but you know that when the wolves show up, you're gone.

Rowen said...

I'm not sure. I know that that's the order they were published in, and usually the box sets put Planet as 3 and Waters as 4. (And sometimes they add in the AWFUL book 5/8 in.)

BTW, have you ever read any of her other books? Like the ones about Meg's daughter Polly, or the Austins? I actually like those better, even if they seem REALLY dated.

Ana Mardoll said...

I think I've only ever read the 4. Funny enough, I have no clear distinction in my head between Book 1 and Book 2 -- they both struck me as pretty much the SAME book, but with different words. And they also reminded me of the uncomfortable parts (for me) of Lewis' Space Trilogy. I'm going to have to do some navel gazing to work out why that is. Hm.

Izzy said...

I liked the first two books a lot, and they didn't seem preachy at all. (Although in retrospect, the Deepening in Wind could be taken as "everyone needs to settle down", which would bug.) Planet didn't bug so much, and I liked the poem a lot, but the virginity thing in Waters...ugh, seriously, L'Engle? I'd thought better of you.

Also, I totally took the wrong message from that one: nephilim were awesome and hot and came in all the fun colors...although taking mosquito form *does* make a reasonable case for being the bad guy, if you can help it. Little fuckers.

Huh. Also, the nephilim/seraphim color-coding split corresponds interestingly to the chromatic/metallic dragon split in D&D. I doubt one work took from the other, but it's sort of amusing.

Rowen said...

I'm rather intrigued as to why you didn't like them. Mainly cause I know SO many people for whom they were a major point in our lives, and I've really been blown away (in a good way) about things I never thought about dealing with Narnia. (well, more wrinkle in time. I really get where you're coming from with Planet and Waters.)

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm rather intrigued as to why you didn't like them.

Well, maybe it's time to re-read them. I *do* recall being frustrated that Meg never really seemed to DO anything. Funny that I saw Narnia as more positive in that regard -- Lucy got a knife, Susan got a bow, Aramis got a horse, and Father Christmas got to shove off as far as *I* was concerned.

Meg, on the other hand, was a NORMAL GIRL JUST LIKE ME, who seemed to always save the day with Care Bear Hugs. There's a line between "things I can reasonably expect a girl like me to be able to do because she's not Xena after all" and "dear sweet god in heaven, does she do anything at all except dispense Cool Down Hugs?" and I always felt like L'Engle was too far over the line for me personally.

Then again, my reading comprehension was so crap as a kid that I thought Legolas was a girl for two whole books. I mean LEGO-LASS? And zie runs so lightly on the snow that zie doesn't leave footprints? And zie is the Bow Chick? How can zie NOT be a girl? *sigh* I was so upset when I found out there was NO Token Chick in the Fellowship that I wrote a searing fanfic about Gandalf's daughter who followed them on the quest and DID STUFF and WAS COOL and then wisely burned the whole thing later. (Metaphorically, of course, don't play with fire, kids.)

There were a lot of messages in Book 2 that really bugged me, specifically the "let's teach Charles (am I getting the names right? I'm AWFUL with name) to act 'normal' because there's an evolutionary advantage to blending in". Speaking as a girl who had "afro hair" and thick glasses and was overweight, there was no way I was ever, ever going to "blend in" no matter how I tried, and the implication that that was just what smart little boys and girls did to get along safely was...depressing to me. It seemed sort of "rah, rah, passing privilege" although I could never have articulated that as a child.

But -- HUGE CAVEAT -- I haven't read the books in, um, 20 years? 15, at the very least. I could be remembering it ALL wrong.

Rowen said...

I didn't have as much of a problem with that in the first book, since I felt the point was that Meg was a normal girl with Heart, and the Power of Love can conquer all, or most things, or at least break the power of disembodied alien brains over little boys.

Book two was the jarring one. where the power of Loving something you just met can over power the Forces of Evil.

And then all she did in Planet was sit at home and pray. (A Swiftly Tilting Planet is one of the books I wish I hadn't reread as an adult. It was one of my favorites as a kid, and then ALL the glaring things started showing up on reread).

Izzy said...

I hear you on that. Granted, pretty much all L'Engle plots were resolved by The Power of Love, or Jesus, or both. I don't mind, but it's weird that I don't mind, because I hate both of those things now. I mean, as plot devices. Not as people, or Huey Lewis songs.

On blending in specifically...I think there's a balance.

One ideal for everyone, particularly one physical ideal, doesn't work. Stifling yourself completely, or pretending to like things you hate, is always a bad idea. And yet...

...well, as an adult, a lot of people I've met take "being yourself" to mean "making asshole 'honest' comments because tact is so phony, man" or "monologuing at people about Your Thing without realizing that they want to chew their own legs off to get away" or "dousing themselves in perfume and then taking public transportation" or whatever.

So some blending works, in the context of behavior/grooming/etc that is socially acceptable for a reason. In Wind...yeah, I didn't see it so much, because Charles was socially *fine*, just smart, and the Murrays couldn't have maybe found a private school or gotten him to move up a bunch of grades or whatever? Or at least had a scene where they explained why they *couldn't* do these things?

Ana Mardoll said...

I agree, and you kind of ordered my thoughts for me: thank you! Loving Your Brother? Sure! Loving someone you've just met because you're a girl and you're supposed to? Um.

Wasn't she also pregnant in Planet? On the one hand, reasonable that she's not running around solving mysteries and fighting zombies when she was undergoing (I think) a dangerous pregnancy. On the other hand... yeah.

And I agree (up-thread) that the Nephilim were sexy to an uncomfortable extreme. You can either have HOT SEX with evil angel-demon-things who make for crappy relationship partners or NO SEX and have unicorns. Actually, just the women being so submissive and wanting to make good babies for their angel-demon-things was... problematic. Heck, the fact that the angel-demon-things CARED about male progeny was bizarre. And the one woman in the novel who enjoyed sex with the HOT ANGEL guys was, of course, an Evil Man-Eating Slut. *sad face*

Kit Whitfield said...

I've only read A Wrinkle In TIme. My childhood impression of it was largely a sense that it was a Bit Much.

Rowen said...

I think the adult "being yourself" and the 80's Disney "Beee yourself" are two different things. The whole "I'm just being honest!", to me, comes from how so many people I know refuse to deal with consequences, like hurting someone's feelings. The message I got as a kid was "Don't let people make you do things you don't want to do, just so you can fit in." I'm not sure how well it sunk in.

My own mental gymnastics for Charles Wallace was that by the time he had started school, Alexander was missing, and Katherine was immersed in raising four kids, while still struggling to keep up with her work, and dealing with the depression from a missing husband. So, she couldn't send him to private school, and figured the other kids were doing ok, relatively. So, by the time Wind is set, Charles Wallace was already in the local public school, and the town is described as small enough that I doubt a good private school existed in the area. Of course, this IS Connecticut, and I grew up in Texas, so "too far to drive" is very relative, I think. Anyway, he's in school and Alex and Kate, when they think about it, think it'd be good for him to learn how to deal with the common folk. And I suspect they thought Meg was exaggerating. I know I did.

Izzy said...

"Don't let people make you do things you don't want to do, just so you can fit in."

Which I agree with, except...then "being a team player" is important in the working world, so I end up making small talk about reality TV while drinking crappy beer so I won't be the first one in the layoff line.

Our world: fucked up.

My own mental gymnastics for Charles Wallace was that by the time he had started school, Alexander was missing, and Katherine was immersed in raising four kids, while still struggling to keep up with her work, and dealing with the depression from a missing husband.

Huh, I thought Alex was back by then--Charles started school in Wind, and Alex was rescued in Wrinkle. Not that the later books mention events in the former ones much at all, which sort of bugs, but hey. But it could easily be Alex's readjustment wackiness.

And I see what you mean about the private school thing. He's young for boarding school, plus the mitochondriosis...so it really is an untenable situation.

A very mortal one, too, so I sort of am okay with the acceptance there. Yeah, it sucks--but a certain amount of annoying fitting-in is the sort of thing that plenty of people have to deal with on a smaller scale throughout their lives (see above) and honestly? Learning how to talk on multiple levels *is* a useful social skill.

The fact that Charles is getting beaten up makes the situation *much* cloudier, from my modern understanding, but...1974, I dunno.

The whole "I'm just being honest!", to me, comes from how so many people I know refuse to deal with consequences, like hurting someone's feelings.

Yes.

And on that note, since we're deconstructing, am I the only one who thinks the narrator of "Friends in Low Places" is an economy-sized bag of dicks? Because the chorus is a lot of fun to sing and all, but the lyrics pan out to:

1) Guy's girlfriend broke up with him.
2) Guy's girlfriend is now dating someone who's more educated/wealthier.
3) So guy, um, crashes their party, steals New Boyfriend's drink (and from the "fear in his eyes" line, does so in such a way as to suggest that he's a psychopath of some variety), and makes a bunch of drunk-asshole statements about how SHE THINGHKS SHEEEZ TOO GOOFOOORME FUCKYAAAAALLLLL.

And...fuck right off, That Guy.

Ana Mardoll said...

Heh. True.

Another thought that occurred to me. I hated Zilah (Zilah? Was that her name? I should google this stuff.) in Waters because she fit the Christian literature aimed at boys too, too much.

I am actually glad that the Christian movement focuses less on boys and says "boys will be boys" because I think attempts to safeguard boys' virginity along with the girls is perhaps more harmful than doing nothing at all. EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE I've seen of "story to safeguard boys' virginity" makes the Sexy Girl to be a massive sexual aggressor whose expression of her own sexual desires is a THREAT TO HIS VERY SOUL. I seriously think this can result in a mentality that female sexuality is literally dangerous, like an actual mortal threat to men. And I've seen at least one man who couldn't seem to turn this off later in life.

Zilah isn't just a girl who loves her body and loves her some sexytime, she's a man-eater who constantly and *deliberately* arouses the boys (Read: SHE controls their bodily responses, not THEM.) in order to try to tempt them into sex with her. The boys "win" -- and it's presented as a real struggle of wits, her against them -- by deciding they want the good, virginal girl instead.

And... where does that put us as a society? When a Good Boy marries a Good Girl, what happens if she wants Sexy Goodtimes now that they're married? Most people manage fine, I'm sure, but at least one man I've known seemed to have SHE WANTS SEX, SHE WANTS MY SOUL ingrained so firmly into his minds -- along with the implication that male arousal is an actual *attack* by a female on a male -- that he simply couldn't enjoy sex if his partner tried to instigate it. It was really sad to see.

I think story attempts to safeguard boys' virginity probably come from good intent and are actually probably intended to fix a serious gender gap but doing it in a way that demonizes female sexuality and makes male arousal the "fault" of a woman is not helpful.

Again, haven't read the books in decades.

Ana Mardoll said...

Country songs we don't like? Please add "How Do You Like Me Now?" to songs that make me want to drive off the road in frustration.

Izzy said...

I do like the Power of Getting Over Yourself as a concept. Especially when applied to teenagers. Now that I am old and cranky, I have way less sympathy with Meg's self-esteem issues--oh my GOD, girl, if I never have to hear you wish for gorgeous blonde hair again, it will be TOO SOON--but yeah, I otherwise agree.

Also, WItD does have a permanent place in my heart for Good Guy Snake, whatever other problematic bits it may have. (See also: Princess and the Frog. WTFVOODOO FAIL, but I do like the snake.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Bujold, huh? Husband likes her books. She seems polarizing -- I've heard that she gets a lot of feminist issues right and a lot really wrong? Or am I thinking of someone else? TV Tropes has fragmented my mind. I'll add her to the pile, though. :D

Ana Mardoll said...

And I really dislike how instead of being a perfectly normal (if eccentric) family, *all* the Murrays seem to have SuperSpecial Roles.

Which would fit very nicely with the genetics fail in Book 4. Hadn't noticed that before, thank you.

Izzy said...

Jesus, yeah. See also "Sk8r Boi" for a non-country example of that genre: "You shouldn't reject anyone ever because they might turn out to be famous"...what? The ass? Shut up, Avril.

Also "Before He Cheats". And any other "infidelity justifies major property damage and physical assault" song, because...no, and no, and shut the fuck up.

Rowen said...

I got the impression that there wasn't much time in between Wrinkle and Wind. Plus, Alex would have to be debriefed and deloused and what not. AND they live on a farm (sorta) well outside a small town in Connecticut in the 60s/70s.

The fact that Charles is getting beaten up makes the situation *much* cloudier, from my modern understanding, but...1974, I dunno.

Think that's why, while I feel Meg was exaggerating, I couldn't completely dismiss her worries. I wonder if the fact that the parents were pretty laid back about it made me think less of Meg's worries.

Ana Mardoll said...

See also "Sk8r Boi" for a non-country example of that genre: "You shouldn't reject anyone ever because they might turn out to be famous"...what?

Agreed. That song... yeah.

I wonder if the fact that the parents were pretty laid back about it made me think less of Meg's worries.

Weren't the parents supposed to be the standard Completely Socially Incompetent and Not Able To See Obvious Problems scientists-slash-parents that infect the YA genre?

I swear, what I liked most about His Dark Materials was that the adults were *useful*.

Rowen said...

I think L'Engle tried to do more with them, but still had to have a reason why they weren't in the picture. I got more of a sense of "family" then most teenage wangst stories.

And then they got turned into the Professor (LWW, not X-Men), by An Acceptable Time, where it turns out they Really Knew All Along.

Ana Mardoll said...

@Steve, that would mean we should now say "Hi, I'm a newbie, don't spy on me with sheep?" :P

Steve Morrison said...

Whatever you do, don’t read Many Waters! The childbirth scene would trigger you.

redcrow said...

>>>sex means no unicorns ever

One Twilight ficwriter would disagree. In her fic Bella used "unicorn" as a metaphor/synonym/euphemism/all of the above for orgasm.

(There was a book I liked very much (no, I don't remember author's name, so I can't google her to find an English title), so I bought the sequel... and in the sequel every non-virginal character who happened to be in some place - okay, including married people, *might* be a mitigating factor, making it less of a condemnation of pre-marital/instead-of-marital sex, and more of "that's just how the magic works", but I still found it grating - became victims of some curse (turned into animals, I think). Sequel's main character and her love interest were virgins, so they avoided that fate. Maybe the author really didn't mean to imply that their virginity made them Special... but it irked me nonetheless, so I read it only once and still have no desire to reread.)

redcrow said...

Hmm... In the version I knew all my life there were no mentions of the *secret* police at all. Those who were catching all camels (not elephants - and there were no bunch of sheep, just one hare) could very well be a non-secret force.

jillheather said...

Going way back to the discussion of intent vs results:

Also, if the Narnia-God-Emperor puts people to death based on results of their actions instead of the intent behind their actions, I cannot imagine that Aslan still qualifies as "innocent" at this point.

If we switch "puts to death" to "punishes", so we can be more generic, we do take both into account, and we don't want to live in a world where we don't -- but that's the justice system, not interactions in general. And in general, results matter more than intentions. If I step on your foot accidentally, it still hurts, and much more than if I intended to do so and missed. If people say sexist or racist or ablist or etcist stuff, even when it was not intended as such, a lot of pixels have been spilled by people saying that it still hurts, that the intent matters less than the result. I am strongly in the camp that intent is less important. It's pretty hard to see intent, it's pretty easy to lie -- to yourself or to others -- about it. Results are sitting right there. I'd prefer someone who means badly but ends up doing good stuff all the time than someone who really means well but only ever hurts people.

FYI Ana, all of the Vorkosigan saga have been put up by the publisher as free epub. (I read them this spring while on holiday, and it was lovely. They're not by any means perfect -- there's a lot of ablism, which is odd because Miles is of course disabled. But there's all this focus on how it's okay, because it's environmental, not genetic.) I read the first of one of her fantasy series, which was fun, and I will eventually get to the rest of her books.

Ana Mardoll said...

@jillheather, I completely agree that intent matters pretty-much-not-at-all in social interactions. I was trying to confine my remarks to a divine justice system. :)

Rikalous said...

Ableism in the Vorkosigan saga? Dang, I must have missed it. Miles does make a point of mentioning that his problems are teratogenic, but I read that as less "he's not really disabled" and more as "he's trying to get rid of at least one strike against him in Barrayar's fairly screwed-up culture."

Seconding the thanks for the link.

chris the cynic said...

I get all of my communist jokes from a single source, so whenever I get something wrong you can blame it on either the 2006 documentary Hammer and Tickle or me misremembering the same documentary.

jill heather said...

Re: Vorkosigan There's a lot of focus on how it's okay because his kids will be normal, phew. I like the Vorkosigan books; I'll most likely buy the next one. But I am puzzled about the complete love for Miles in the sff community -- he's really weird looking, but he's super brilliant, and everyone loves him, and all women want to sleep with him, and his relationships are always with exceptionally gorgeous women, and so on. Cordelia and Aral were much more interesting, but they only got the two books; Ekaterina has been given a lot less plot than she deserves. Still, they're fun books.

I think a divine justice system needs to take results into consideration just as much as a normal justice system does. There is a difference between manslaughter and attempted murder, and attempted murder doesn't necessarily get a higher sentencing even though the intent (and the action, since you don't get attempted murder if you just plan to kill someone, unless maybe you hire someone else) were there. I am not sure I would be happy with a divine justice system that ignored results (nor would it be appropriate in Judaism, the only religion I know enough about to mention).

Kish said...

I thought the "teratogenic, not genetic" thing was Miles being ablist, certainly, but the author deliberately making him so. He does the "it used to be very important to me that people know it's teratogenic, not genetic" thing in Komarr, and Ekaterin immediately realizes that it obviously still is very important to him that people know that or he wouldn't have mentioned it to her, he's just progressed to not wanting it to be important to him.

Ana Mardoll said...

I think a divine justice system needs to take results into consideration just as much as a normal justice system does.

Really? Huh. See, in my ideal divine justice system, intent would matter WAY more than results. I'm not really keen on punishing someone if they really, genuinely, honestly didn't mean to do anything wrong. I mean, especially after they're dead -- what would be the point?

In my divine justice system, genuinely mistaken folks would be treated to a hot cup of chocolate and Feminism / Abelism / Racism / Don't-Accidentally-Sell-Your-Siblings-Out-For-Candy-ism 101 and after about half an eternity or two of measured dialog with Aslan, they'd be all FACEPALM-I-GET-IT-NOW and then they'd be able to go into the "afterlife proper" where they could play nice with all the good-intentioned-good-results people (as well as the good-intentioned-bad-results people who've already had The Talk).

So it's very interesting to see a different viewpoint and realize my viewpoint isn't universal here. Thank you for that. :)

depizan said...

Don't forget that Miles' brilliance sometimes backfires. Sometimes spectacularly. Nor can we forget that his list of women he has slept with includes Taura, who probably wouldn't fall into most people's definition of "exceptionally gorgeous women." (Granted, I'd have been happier if there weren't quite so many exceptionally gorgeous women. Elli would be just as awesome if she were plain (though there's a reason she's exceptionally gorgeous.), and so would the others.

Miles may kind of be Captain Kirk, but the fact that he's not a handsome, six foot tall, hunk of manliness is, by itself, really damn refreshing. He's the only space adventure hero (outside of anime) that I can think of who isn't.*

I'm not saying the books are perfect. They're not. But they're fun and at least a little different.

I do admit to wishing there were more stories about Elli, though.

And I long for fun space adventure with female Captain Kirks. Okay, they don't need to be like Captain Kirk. But they do need to be having a good time. I am firmly on the side of heroes who have a good time being heroes.


*Okay, there probably are in deadly serious series, but I don't do deadly serious. ... Actually, I know there's at least one in the realm of deadly serious - Honor Harrington. (I don't know if those qualify as deadly serious to most people, but they're well past my seriousness threshold, or at least On Basilisk Station was. )

jill heather said...

The Vorkosigan books are lots of fun, but I don't see much critical response to them (except a lot of dislike of the latest book, which I share), and I think they have problems that are ignored. And Taura is . . . well. Let's avoid spoilers. The only character that I am okay with being so gorgeous is Elli, because I think her story is really interesting when that's added in. But it gets lost in all the other gorgeous women. (Well, I guess I am ok with the planet of exceptionally beautiful people, too, because it's integral to the way their society works. But of course, the society works that way because the author made up a society that is based on exceptionally attractive women.) Seriously, I recommend the books; they're well written, generally well-plotted, and I mostly like Miles. They're just not unproblematic, and one of those unproblematic things is where we have short, unattractive Miles and lots of super hot women. I'm glad Miles is as he is; I wish Kat, and others, were too. How did I get on to this from Narnia, anyhow?

I'm not sure what I would want as divine punishment; it seems silly. But I don't care if you didn't mean to kill a bunch of people, doing it is much worse than wanting to but not doing it, and still worse than wanting to and getting partway through and failing. (For kill, replace by whatever else you want. Hurt, in the broadest sense.) I know people believe otherwise -- adultery in my heart and all that -- but it seems so obviously absurd to me. Who hasn't been tempted by people when in a relationship? Who hasn't wanted others to hurt? In my head, I am a very vengeful person, but I *don't act on it*. Doesn't that count? I really, truly, do not understand how intent can matter more than results. (I obviously think both intent and results matter, as I am sure everyone here does, we're just debating the balance of the two.)

depizan said...

The super hot women thing is problematic, and should be commented on more than it is. It's also part of a bigger problem with fiction and women. An artist person I know on line recently posted a picture of an attractive woman bathing (cheesecake picture, basically) - an attractive woman with more meat on her bones than you usually see - an attractive woman covered in scars because said woman is a warrior. It was awesome. Here was this imperfect person being held up as attractive, and she was. That means so much to any non-perfect person out here in reality. Because seeing nothing but perfect people held up as attractive, or romancable, or worthwhile, or just plain as what people are cuts out everyone who can't meet that standard. Which is most of us.

As for deeds and intent... that's... backwards of how I've usually heard it talked about. I've always heard that intent matters in regards to what a person actually did. Someone who stood on your foot and meant to is worse than someone who stood on your foot by accident. (Where someone who wanted to stand on your foot, but didn't, fits in, I'm not sure. I think it gets left out because no one really wants to deal with thought crimes. And, like you say, we all have moments when we think bad things. I don't think we gain anything by punishing moments of wanting to do bad, nor would a deity gain anything by punishing that.)

chris the cynic said...

Picking up on the discussion of murder and accidental killing here, figured I'd say that up front just so it doesn't catch anyone off guard. I, personally, would not want to read what I've written, but I'm squeamish like that.

Just to be clear because I'm not sure I'm understanding.

If Jasper flicks a switch believing it to be a light switch but it in fact turns out to turn on the poison gas and kills X people, that's killing without meaning to. The first case you brought up.

If Edward shoots X people in the head with intent to kill them but, as people shot in the head sometimes do, they live that's intending to kill people but not actually doing it.

If Emmett, like Edward, wants to kill X people, but unlike Edward he keeps on shooting them in the head until they're absolutely positively dead, but then runs out of bullets part way through, that's your third scenario, wanting to kill people but failing to complete the task.

Am I correct in stating that of the three people described you would have Jasper punished most severely, Emmett next most severely, and Edward least of all?

-

Of course the traditional example is car accidents.

If you try to run over someone and fail, that is if you intend to run over someone, we tend to punish that quite harshly. Being, as it is, attempted murder. If you try not to run over someone but do anyway, then assuming there wasn't some kind of negligence involved (like say being drunk and still driving) we tend to consider that less wrong. Accidents are not murders, and all that. You seem to be suggesting it should be the other way around.

Unless I'm reading you wrong you're saying someone who tries very, very hard to run over a child should be punished less than someone who was doing everything right and was simply unable to alter the laws of physics to prevent the child who ran out in front of them at the last possible moment from being hit.

Kish said...

(Well, I guess I am ok with the planet of exceptionally beautiful people, too, because it's integral to the way their society works. But of course, the society works that way because the author made up a society that is based on exceptionally attractive women.)
I'm not quite getting which planet you're referring to here. Do you mean Cetaganda?

Kit Whitfield said...

Regarding whether it's 'worse' to kill people in different situations...

I think there are several values of 'worse' here. To wit:

1. 'Worse' as a judgement on what kind of person you are. A person who intends to commit murder and makes a committed attempt to do it, but whose victim survives, is a 'worse person' than someone who intends no harm but kills a person accidentally.

2. 'Worse' as a comment on the consequences. The hypothetical driver who accidentally runs over my son might be much nicer individual than the hypothetical would-be murderer who fires at him and misses, but if one of them has to cross our path, I'll take the bad guy with the bad aim, because that leaves me with a living son at the end of the day.

3. 'Worse' as a comment on the act itself. And that one is complicated, because it depends on whether you're measuring more against scale 1 or scale 2.

Bificommander said...

I must also put my vote for intent mattering more. I think the justice system shouldn't be about exacting revenge, but on prevention of further crimes. In that light, I think someone intending to hurt someone deserves a greater punishment than someone who honestly had no idea something would hurt anyone. Of course, someone who deliberately wants to stay ignorant of the possibility if something hurts others, or who has no empathy after he realized he hurt someone gets points off.

Now, in our earthly justice system, there's going to be some 'result' effects counted as well. Both to give some satisfaction to the victims (and preventing them from deciding to take revenge on their own) and because it is difficult to judge intent. You could try to fake not having harmfull intentions. But when we get to a divine justice system, that problem is solved. Since an omnicient god knows what your intent was, irregardless of the results, he can have his entire system based on intent. And I think he should. I don't believe in the idea that someone who accidentally steped on my foot needs to feel an equivalent amount of pain to make things right.

Bificommander said...

Oh and BTW: I do not think "I was angry at that person, and I thought I wanted to hurt him but I didn't" counts as intent. Yes, we're all tempted to do things that are bad for others. If, like most of us do most of the time, we then remember that this will hurt others and decide not to do it, then I think it's fine. Actually, I would perhaps attribute to such a person even better morals than a person who is never tempted in the first place. Wanting to do something bad and not doing it is a greater test of your morals than not seeing any reason for doing it in the first place.

But if we actually do try to do something hurtfull, and only fail because of chance or incompetence on our part, I think it's morally on the same level as someone who tries and succeeds to to do the same thing. Sure, no one was hurt (and depending on how it failed, the 'victim' might not even have noticed), but when it comes to judging our actions on a moral basis, I think the same level of punishment as that for the actual criminal is in order. A in-between case would be if you decide not to hurt the other for fear of the (legal) consequences of that action. That is a bit of an in-between case. But of course, if we assume an omniscient diety judges our intent, he would be able to know, better than we ourselves could, up to what level we had an intention to hurt someone, and change the judgement accordingly.

All in all, I guess the idea of a god as a lawyer who judges people on technicallities and exact wording of rules, rather than on the morals we lived by, doesn't sound very attractive. I realize that our own justice system needs to rely on such things to compensate for the fact that humans can't know everything others think or intend. But I would hope that a divine being, if he exists, can do better than that.

jill heather said...

I think someone who has no idea that something they are doing has even a reasonable possibility of causing harm is really out of this story. The "evil genius changes your lightswitch to a poison gas switch" is a red herring; no one in their right minds needs to check the wiring of the electrical system before they turn on a switch in a house. Things like driving are different, because when you drive you know that you are driving a very heavy, very dangerous piece of machinery.

Again, head injuries are pretty serious, so let's assume your story is "Edward wants to kill people but misses" and "Emmet wants to kill people but runs out of bullets before he manages to hit anyone/everyone" and, well, I don't think I particularly care about the exact difference between Edward and Emmet's guilt; it seems equal enough. Are we comparing Jasper, who actually was just doing target practice blindfold and had no idea anyone walked in front of his gun? There's no way that an adult can be non-negligent holding a gun and killing someone by mistake. A child can, of course, but not an adult.

As with car accidents: it's pretty rare that no one is at all at fault for some specific accident. You are now imagining someone who is driving slowly enough to be not breaking the law, and slowly enough to be safe for the current weather conditions (someone driving at 30km/h in a residential neighbourhood is fine perhaps, but not if there's ice on the ground), and conscientiously enough that they are looking for kids playing street hockey and other normal things on the road, but fast enough that a child can run out onto the street in front of them such that there is no time to slow, stop, veer away, etc, and they are still going fast enough to kill this child? I read about children getting hit by cars, and I always see speeding, cell phone use, drugs or alcohol mentioned as a confounding factor.

That's the thing: the "I honestly had no idea" might work in a divine system, where your actual truths are unknown, but "I was walking and not paying attention to where I moved" is not "honestly had no idea". Nor was "I was carrying this heavy thing and not checking or warning when I put it down" or "I was carrying a big, bulky, dangerous object and not taking care when I turned" or "I was driving a hunk of metal that weighs thousands of pounds" or "I was playing with this object that is designed to kill people" and so on. Not bothering to find out things matters.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't think that "intent" has to equal "ignorance", though. There are such things as real, genuine mistakes. If I'm holding a kitchen knife (deadly item) and trip and stab my Husband to death, I don't think it should matter -- at least in a divine judgment system -- if I was carrying the knife with the utmost, hyper-vigilant care, or if I was rushing to get dinner on the table and also call Mom real quick because she said she had something Very Important to tell me.

chris the cynic said...

"I was playing with this object that is designed to kill people"

I think I know what you're referring to, though it happens often enough that it's difficult to be sure, and I disagree. The actor was told that the gun was safe. It was supposed to look and sound like it fired, not actually shoot anyone. It wasn't supposed to be physically possible for it to shoot anyone. There wasn't supposed to be a projectile. If he checked the chamber (I don't know if he did) he would have concluded that there wasn't one, because the projectile that wasn't supposed to exist was lodged in the barrel of the gun. No one even realized that the other person was wounded until he failed to get up when cut was called.

I certainly agree that the situation is worse than one in which no one was harmed. If you could somehow replace that situation with attempted murder (emphasis on the attempted) that would have been an improvement.

But if we're discussing this in the context of punishment, as you explicitly are, then I'm not in favor of treating him more harshly than we would if he had intended to kill the other person but failed.

Yes, the actions were all exactly the same as if it had been murder, he aimed at the other person, he fired, the other person was shot and killed. The only difference was in what was going on in his head, in his intent. And I agree that murder is worse than attempted murder. But I think intent matters.

I think intent matters to the point that I think punishment would be entirely wrong in cases such as this with therapy a more reasonable response. Possibly a bit of education (before using a gun loaded with blanks in a way that involves pointing it at another person always check the barrel because if you just check the chamber you could kill someone by mistake.)

depizan said...

I read about children getting hit by cars, and I always see speeding, cell phone use, drugs or alcohol mentioned as a confounding factor.

Really? I've heard of kids running onto roads, people backing out of garages and hitting their own child - who wasn't there a moment ago, and the like. Cars are large hunks of metal. They do not have to be going very fast to hurt someone, especially a child. According to the internet, the stopping distance for a car going 30k/h is 10.8 meters. If someone pops out from between parked cars, I don't think there's going to be time to stop, no matter how vigilant the driver was being. If the road in question isn't a residential road, there's really no chance at all.

Like Kit says, the outcome is worse if someone is harmed by someone who didn't mean to than if someone is not harmed by someone who did mean to. But it doesn't make sense to me to judge the person as worse if it was an accident. Humanity generally sides on intent, just look at the legal system. (Though, frankly, attempted murder kind of bugs me because of the intent factor. Why should your victim being lucky mean you get punished less?)

And did you really mean to equate driving, period, with playing with a gun? Reckless driving, perhaps, but just driving?

Ana Mardoll said...

Humanity generally sides on intent, just look at the legal system. (Though, frankly, attempted murder kind of bugs me because of the intent factor. Why should your victim being lucky mean you get punished less?)

Indeed, this would be a case where the Intent is the same, but the Result is less, and the Punishment is less, and it's one that bugs me a little too. So I weigh pretty heavily on the Intent side for justice.

Kit Whitfield said...

On the other hand, what you intended shouldn't, in my opinion, weigh too heavily when it comes to deciding how sorry you are if you're the person who did it...

chris the cynic said...

As is probably obvious, attempted murder being judged differently from murder seems wrong to me as well. It's like we decided that luck should be the deciding factor in a lot of cases.

-

And I definitely agree with what Kit said about not using intent to excuse yourself from feeling sorry for your actions.

hapax said...

The problem I have with judging by intent -- which I agree does matter -- is that human brains are complicated.

Very rarely do all the shifting currents of our emotions, our conscience, our consciousness, our subconscious speak with one voice. There's absolute honest ignorance -- the re-wired poison trap -- on the end of the spectrum; there's the cackling mwah-hah-hah supervillain on the other.

Practically everything *I* do falls somewhere in-between. We think that negligence isn't an excuse, of course, but it should be judged less harshly -- yet I am less careful in words and deeds towards strangers than I am to those who are precious to me; and even less careful towards those I dislike (unless I judge that they have the power to retaliate).

Self-defense is an excuse for violence, most agree; but if I am very angry at you (or you belong to a race / gender / ethnicity / etc. that I hate and fear) I am more likely to perceive you as attacking me.

And "intent" can be all mixed up in a single action. I am furious at you, so I want to hit you; but "not really", because I love you; but right now I am hurt and angry so I am lashing out indiscriminately; well, perhaps not indiscriminately because I seem to have hit YOU instead of my favorite glass bowl; but I didn't want you to be hurt, I was just so blinded by my emotion that I lacked the ability to imagine that YOU also feel pain; well, no, I'm not stupid or insane, I do realize other people have feelings too; okay, if a piano should fall out of the sky and squash you, I'd be happy, because I know that can't really happen; but OMG if it did I would be horrified; okay, I'm not in control right now, I should just walk away; but I'm not in control so I can't; but if *I* am not in control who is operating my mouth and vocal cords and saying these awful, awful things...

Yeah, I think it WOULD pretty much take an omniscient Deity to perfectly sort out and untangle what "intent" really means in that case.

And in Edmund's case as well. I picture him as pretty much the mess similar to the one I describe. And in his case, we HAVE an omniscient deity -- the narrator. And the narrator tells us that at the most fundamental level -- "deep down" -- Edmund was not mistaken, he "knew the Witch was really bad and cruel", and that betrayal was his intent.

Did his betrayal "deserve" death? Well, I've stated up front I don't believe in capital punishment; I don't think ANYONE "deserves" death. That includes Edmund, Jadis, OR Aslan. But in traditional Christian ethics (by "traditional" I mean Western European, the system Lewis accepted) betrayal is the worst crime possible, even worse than murder. So if anyone in the book "deserves" execution, by both the implicit and explicit rules of that book, that would be Edmund.

Ana Mardoll said...

Are we agreed that the narrator is omniscient, though? I think zie is wrong frequently, such as saying no one was giving Edmund the cold shoulder, which I feel they had to be doing, for the scene to work.

Also, the narrator says that zie isn't aware of how long Edmund stood in the courtyard. So there are some things the narrator definitely does not know...

Rikalous said...

So if the narrator isn't omniscient, then* zie has to be getting information about what Edmund was thinking and feeling from Edmund. Ed relating things like "deep down, I knew she was evil" makes a lot of sense if he's doing it with the benefit of hindsight and a whole mess of guilt.

*From a Watsonian perspective (explanation here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WatsonianVersusDoylist ). Basically means in-universe, but Watsonian sounds cooler.

new4user said...

Will Wildman: "Maybe this isn't the place to ask this question, which is probably kind of enormous, but mayhap there is someone who can shed some light on where I'm off.

I've never been totally clear on the origin of the idea that it was specifically Jesus' death that was the key to saving everyone.
"

My understanding is that this theory (known as penal substitutionary atonement) was first articulated by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). I'm not an expert in Christian history, though, so anyone else here feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Thomas Keyton: "I'm now wondering how Maugrim managed to write the note about Mr Tumnus' arrest while being a quadruped. Reepicheep walked on his hind legs but every other large-ish animal is always portrayed as quadrupedal, as far as I can remember."

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought the evil Wolves in Narnia were portrayed as werewolves, being able to change form between human and lupine. I know this was the case in Prince Caspian, but I'm not sure if it was also specifically mentioned here. If so, then Maugrim was presumably in his human form when he wrote the letter.

Ana Mardoll said...

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought the evil Wolves in Narnia were portrayed as werewolves, being able to change form between human and lupine.

You're not mistaken: that was introduced in the early movies (I think by BBC). But it was probably introduced due to limitations of special effects budget and technology and may not have been rooted in the source material.

Irina said...

I read A Wrinkle in Time as a youngish teenager and thought it was awesome, then of course I wanted to read all the rest and was underwhelmed. Still (because that's the way I am) I wanted to read everything. I remember that some of the later books I read made me feel inadequate, but not how or why, and I don't feel called to reread them.

Irina said...

That's probably A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer.

Rikalous said...

A werewolf did show up in Caspian, but I'm not sure if it's the same species as a Wolf. No rule that says you can't have multiple evil lupine races.

Thomas Keyton said...

The one in PC was a werewolf, but Maugrim himself is never described as anything but a normal sapient talking wolf (though as Ana said, the BBC did turn him into one due to effects limitations).

This does however, raise the question of where werewolves (and Hags, Ettins, Toadstool people, etc) came from - Aslan presumably would not have created Always Chaotic Evil creatures like these (and we don't see them being created in MN, unlike the talking animals, dryads, etc), so did Jadis magic them up? Did they come through portals like the Telmarines? Did Tash import or create them? (And why do there seem to be no supernatural creatures native to anywhere more southern than Archenland? Lions are savannah animals, aren't they?)

Theo said...

Hey. I just (this weekend) discovered this blog and the Narnia deconstruction, and I've been catching up with great interest. I love the Narnia books, but I'm not blind to their many flaws and I'm enjoying the critical perspective. I'll try to actually contribute something to the discussions eventually.

A minor point is that I don't think Lewis himself intended Edmund's drawing on the stone lion as a moral event horizon thing, since the narrator in LWW usually isn't coy with his judgments, and this time he deems the act "silly and childish", compared to the much stronger condemnation of Edmund's earlier decision to "let Lucy down". Still, you make a good case for it.

Regarding how Maugrim wrote that letter: perhaps he was dictating? :)

Ana Mardoll said...

Yay, another reader!! :D

It's possible that this isn't meant to be super-meaningful. It always left a strong impression on me, so I was trying to work out why that was. I sort of figured the author saw it as a major denial moment where Edmund tries to mock or hurt Aslan, but it's entirely possible I'm just reading too much into things. :)

Welcome!

ZMiles said...

(Remember kids: sex means no unicorns ever.)

Hmm. Now I'm trying to think of fantasy works with unicorns that don't have the 'virginity required' thing, and I'm failing. The only one that comes close that I can think of is one story where a guy needs to figure out how a famously lewd and lusty knight has managed to ride a unicorn for years, when the unicorns refused to let anyone who had ever had sex mount them. (Ending: the guy pretended to be a Don Juan, but he actually restricted himself to oral sex, which apparently didn't count by the unicorn's metrics). Or King's Quest 8, where it never came up (although I think it did in KQ 4)... I know that the Kitty Norville series did it, and Dresden Files implied it, also.

Does anyone know of unicorn stories that don't include, or counter, this trope?

Pthalo said...

the unicorns on the (possibly imaginary) planet i used to visit as a little kid didn't care about virginity.

Ana Mardoll said...

Mercedes Lackey plays with the trope in her Five Hundred Kingdoms books: sex means no unicorns, but unicorns are gorram pests that the characters are universally glad to be rid of.

AcyOS said...

Harry Potter, guys. When unicorns show up in the Care of Magical Creatures class, they're said to prefer witches over wizards, but nothing is said or even implied about the sexual status of those witches.

(Wow, this is what I'm delurking for? Well, anyway, hi guys. :) )

chris the cynic said...

Hello. Thank you for delurking.

-

I have no idea when it was that I first learned that unicorns had a connection to virginity, but it was years after I fell in love with idea of unicorns. It had to be because it wasn't until years after that that I learned there was such a thing as virginity.

Cupcakedoll said...

She uses the unicorns to avoid having main character romance in the (really freakin good) Obsidian Trilogy. Hero boy is under a vow of chastity enforced by a unicorn, such a strict vow that he's not even allowed to think naughty thoughts. Spares the writer having to write any love stuff!

Heh, like Chris I was unicorn-crazy long before I knew about virginity. Now I'm trying to remember where I first encountered the Mythical Horned Horse-- was there one in the old BBC Chronicles of Narnia movie? Whisper the Winged Unicorn books? Maybe it was just the My Little Pony unicorns. At any rate I had a wall full of unicorn posters by age ten. (and at age 31 I still have them all-- and am considering putting the best ones back up, only in frames 'cause I'm all mature and stuff now!)

Of course when you're ten, a unicorn is just a sparkly shiny horse that is also a symbol of Magic. That's a thing to love, even before you know the cool unicorn lore in the 'nonfiction' unicorn books.

Pthalo said...

Riding a unicorn is like riding a horse, except that you do not control a unicorn. The unicorn consents to let you ride it, a great honour, but you don't direct it. You can agree with it on where you'd like to go beforehand, and talk to it on your journey, but you could never put a bridle on a unicorn, it wouldn't stand for it. Unicorns view bridles and the like as demeaning, and since they are sentient, you do have to see their point.

They cannot fly, but they can run very fast. They usually do not have time to give rides to children, but when the need is very great, they may make an exception if they feel a pressing need to get you somewhere fast.

There are male and female unicorns.

I never got to know the unicorns well personally, their station being so high above my own, but they did give me rides now and then. They were always kind to me, and they never made a fuss about my lack of virginity.

Still, I spent more of my childhood with the shining sisters, who served tea to children, and the crayon people, who get smaller as they get older and do many traditional dances on large sheets of papers, which produced detailed artwork.

Will Wildman said...

Hero boy is under a vow of chastity enforced by a unicorn, such a strict vow that he's not even allowed to think naughty thoughts. Spares the writer having to write any love stuff!

I feel like there is a flaw in this plan, in the form of 'loving thoughts' having any correlation with 'naughty thoughts'. I mean, just read testimonials of monks or nuns working to suppress sexual thoughts - it's a bloody chore for many people, even if there's no one around to tempt them and they have a ton of time to spend seeking personal 'purity'. The unicorn might do best to specifically seek out asexual people...

hapax said...

Favorite unicorn story: "Silken Swift" by Theodore Sturgeon.
(caveat -- if Sturgeon wrote about it, it's probably going to be my favorite story on the topic.

just read testimonials of monks or nuns working to suppress sexual thoughts - it's a bloody chore for many people, even if there's no one around to tempt them and they have a ton of time to spend seeking personal 'purity'.

I have read any number of accounts of early medieval monks chronicling their struggles with the demons of lust, and their detailed graphic accounts of the dreams and visions sent to tempt them. (Not to mention poor Mary Magdalene, whose heroic chastity in the second half of her life was only exceeded by her even more heroic depravity in her youth). I assure you, modern writers of pornography could learn a thing or two from the Desert Fathers.

Pthalo, thank you for sharing that. That was just lovely. I wish I had met the crayon people.

I have always known that those mysterious forest paths, the ones that seem to disappear after five minutes or more, would take me somewhere ... beyond ... if only I had the courage and wit to follow them. Maybe that's why I never had tea with the shining sisters. :-(

Amaryllis said...

Pthalo, that was wonderful. The crayon people...brilliant. Of course they'd be just like that.

Rikalous said...

I just remembered that one source I read said that unicorns weren't tamed so much the purity of the virgin maid as they were by the sight of her flashing her breasts. I wish I could remember where the deuce I ran across it so I could potentially confirm that the virgin purity thing was a bowdlerization. Given the honking great phallic symbol on their heads, I wouldn't be surprised.

Ana Mardoll said...

Still, I spent more of my childhood with the shining sisters, who served tea to children, and the crayon people, who get smaller as they get older and do many traditional dances on large sheets of papers, which produced detailed artwork.

This is so lovely, Pthalo. It's poetic. :)

Timothy (TRiG) said...

Of course Terry Pratchett plays with notions of unicorns and virginity in Lords and Ladies. It's a brief scene, but it works well. (No spoilers.)

TRiG.

Anton_Mates said...

Gaudior, the flying unicorn in L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet, doesn't seem to care about virginity. Charles Wallace happens to be a virgin AFAIK, but that's never invoked as a factor in why they work well together.

Sybylla said...

So late to the game that I don't know if this'll ever be read, but there's a fantasy book from the 80s called The Unicorn Creed by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough that (as I recall it) ultimately deals with the unicorn/virginity thing head on. IIRC, a witch and her unicorn friend are trying to figure out how they'll stay friends (it might be because they're worried about if/when she has sex, or it might be because someone says she's not princessly enough...it's been about 25 years since I read it.) In any event, I know they ultimately decide that they're friends whether Maggie's a virgin or not (spoiler: by the end of the book she isn't), and and after they decide this, they find out that the whole virginity thing was totally arbitrary anyway, and the unicorns-of-yore who came up with the rule could have just as easily decided to make pregnancy or some other Temporary Time Period the qualifying characteristic for UnicornFriendship. My memory is that the necessary trait was always (in the book's explanation) intended to be temporary, although I don't remember why. I do know, though, that Scarborough makes a point of saying that there isn't anything inherently more virtuous about virginity, that that idea is the result of mistaken moral accretions over time.

The first time I read the book was when I was just entering puberty, so the idea that virginity didn't have to be this Absolute Good really stuck out for me.

Chris Algoo said...

Aw man! I just got a bunch of books for a clever 7 year old girl, and Wrinkle in Time was among them. I figured it wouldn't have so much fail, since it's so universally loved.

I read Wrinkle in Time for school - all I remember was something about tongue sandwiches with a slice of tomato. (I tried a tongue sandwich last year and it wasn't for me!)

Ana Mardoll said...

Every book has fail of some sort. If you got her a good assortment of books, from a variety of viewpoints, I wouldn't worry too, too much. You might want to brush up on the actual content (maybe a Wiki summary?) so that you can carry a decent conversation if she'd like to talk to you about what she read.

Tigerpetals said...

I think that impression exists regardless of whether people try to safeguard boys' virginity. The whole story that 'she made me do it because she looked so sexy I couldn't help myself.' And I've definitely gotten an impression (from things I can't specifically recall right now) that sex is a way of putting the sexy woman in her place for making a man aroused.

Tigerpetals said...

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. It's believed by humans, but the titular unicorn doesn't behave that way. I can't remember enough to know for sure whether it was just an exception, though.

hapax said...

VERY SINGLE EXAMPLE I've seen of "story to safeguard boys' virginity" makes the Sexy Girl to be a massive sexual aggressor whose expression of her own sexual desires is a THREAT TO HIS VERY SOUL. I seriously think this can result in a mentality that female sexuality is literally dangerous, like an actual mortal threat to men. And I've seen at least one man who couldn't seem to turn this off later in life.

Ana, have your read ETHAN OF ATHOS by Bujold? If not, go read it. Right now. I'll wait.

[taps foot]

There are many things I adore about that book, but one of them is how it puts that attitude and lampshades it, making it the central driving conceit of an ENTIRE PLANET.

(EoA is part of the larger Vorkosigan series, but stands on its own very well)

hapax said...

Meg, on the other hand, was a NORMAL GIRL JUST LIKE ME, who seemed to always save the day with Care Bear Hugs

Well, I liked WRINKLE quite a bit, and still love WIND IN THE DOOR (or at least my memory of it) -- although I admit that I last read it in high school.

What I liked about the books is that Meg didn't actually "save the day with the Power of Love." In both of those books, she basically accomplished the appointed task by Getting Over Herself. She didn't defeat IT; the Echthroi aren't gone from the universe. In both of those books, she is basically given the option "Is the person you love best in the world more important than making it All About You? Well, then, that actually makes a difference in the great scheme of things."

And I really really loved so many little bits in WItD -- the fact that the snake (!) was one of God's Secret Agents; that the ineffectual principal who Meg hated was actually the catalyst for her realization (Calvin's shoes!); Proginoskes, the singular cherubim (and his wonderful line "Love isn't what you FEEL; love is what you DO") ; the song of the Deepening farandolae; the difference between being X-ed and X-ing yourself; oh, now I probably will go and re-read it.

But yes, the other two were filled with Fail. I hated that the retcon that it had been important to save Charles Wallace because he was The Boy of Destiny, not because EVERY boy (and girl) is precious and irreplaceable to someone. And the creepy sexual dynamics in Waters .... eeek. And I really dislike how instead of being a perfectly normal (if eccentric) family, *all* the Murrays seem to have SuperSpecial Roles.

Yes, I think as a series, the Austin books were a lot better, if dated. Perhaps because they are more in the "contemporary coming of age" genre than the "epic fantasy" genre, their problematic tropes seem more like "oh, that's how they thought back then" rather than Absolute Truths Built Into The Very Fabric Of The Cosmos.

hapax said...

Is Jesus quoted as having said that it was his participation in a blood sacrifice that would purify everyone, or was that a later interpretation of events?

This ... is actually a pretty hotly disputed question.

There are passages in the Gospels that may or may not refer to Jesus's understanding of his own death*. It seems pretty clear that he *was* expecting to be executed (possibly for blasphemy -- that would involve death by stoning, rather than crucifixion, which was reserved for civil / political crimes). What it *meant* to him is ... less clear. If you dismiss the "High Priestly Prayer" in the Gospel of John as a later interpolation (which most non-literalist scholars do), then the closest indication that Jesus saw his own death as a blood sacrifice would be the words of institution used at the Last Supper ("this is my flesh" "this is my blood").

There are those (including me) who believe that at the time Jesus was intending to substitute a bread and wine sacrifice, available to all, for the animal and blood sacrifice reserved to the priestly class at the Temple -- not referring to his own death at all. This would be much more consistent with the general tenor and themes of his preaching.

However.

The understanding that Jesus' own death accomplished SOMETHING fundamental for the nature of the relationship between God and human beings was a very very early idea in Christianity: possibly as early as the days immediately post-Resurrection (it depends on how historical you believe the various pre-Ascension accounts of Jesus to be, and how you interpret some of his more cryptic statements therein); very likely pre-dating Paul (to judge from the fragments of Pre-Pauline literature that we can tease out of the surviving texts); and almost certainly by the time of Paul, who did more than anyone to place faith in the sacrificial nature of Jesus' death to the forefront of Christian doctrine.

It is not fair, however, to assert that this was strictly Paul's innovation (or hang-up, depending on your sympathy for the Apostle to the Gentiles); similar teachings are quite clear in such non-Pauline sources as the Epistle to the Hebrews and the writings of the Johannine circle, although they do each put their own "spin" and nuance to this understanding.

*Note that I here refer to the understanding of the Incarnate Jesus, which while I accept it was considerably advanced and in accord with the Mind of God, nonetheless was necessarily limited with respect to the understanding of the Eternal Word, and thus may not reflect the fullness of the Divine Plan before, after, or outside the specific period recorded by the Gospels.

hapax said...

"She can't hold back Christmas forever," rumbled the bear. "And you can't stop us all!"


Every Narm
Down in Narnia
Liked Christmas a lot...

But the Queen,
Who came from North Charnia,
Did NOT!

The Queen hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be the meddling of that Victorian trio.
It could be Sol Invictus had just risen in Leo.
But I think that the reason behind the whole tale
Was a case of Jack Lewis’s narrative fail.

But,
Whatever the reason,
-Logies theo- or astro-
She refused to admit her dice had just had their last throw.
Staring down from her castle with a regal brow-furrow
At the lights where those rodents had built their dammed burrow.
Whence children and Beavers would flee, she was sure
As soon as the marmalade was scraped out of their fur.

"They’ll be off to the Table!" she snarled with a sneer.
"They say Aslan is coming! Spring's practically here!"
Then she growled, with her wand still rhythmic’ly drumming,
"I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!"

For,
Tomorrow, she knew...

... Pevensies and Castor (lest her wolves intervene)
Would meet Father Christmas. But that arms-smuggling fiend
Would equip them with weapons! Then, just venting his spleen,
He’d burden the readers with a mind breaking scene:
A nonsensical, pointless SEWING MACHINE!

...

And the more Jadis pondered this worldbuilding flaw,
The more the Queen thought, 'There should be a law!"
"Why, for over a century I’ve kept it out now!
"I MUST stop this Christmas from coming!
...But HOW?"

Steve Morrison said...

But I just found the idea of this wolf literally donning sheeps clothing (and a pair of sunglasses) to infiltrate a sheep resistance group too funny not to mention.
Finally! You found a solution! Listen, everybody: next time a newbie posts on Slacktivist/Slacktiverse, and everyone is scared of being killed with sheep, just get Maugrim to don his famous disguise and report to us on what the sheep are up to.

Makabit said...

I always thought Edmund's Moral Event Horizon was when, after crossing the courtyard of statues, he still tells the Witch about his siblings. Holy crap, Edmund, she's got a courtyard of statues!

Except that in the reality that this child comes from, people don't get turned into stone, and the Beavers, as many people have mentioned, are not the most ostensibly reliable narrators out there.

Why should he believe they're magicked people? What if it's just statuary? Creepy statuary, but statuary. Maybe the Witch puts these things up to freak out the locals. Maybe all these animals were genuine criminals. How is he supposed to know, especially having been addled by the Dessert Candy of Evil?

hapax said...

I had remembered that Frex insists that Aslan walks like a man because otherwise he's "just like any other lion" and this is a heresy of some kind, but apparently my brain had mixed LB with some other book from my childhood.

You're remembering Bree the Horse telling Shasta that Aslan couldn't possibly be a LION Lion, but a human who was "as brave as a lion" or "as fierce as a lion" because otherwise he'd have fur and paws and whiskers and that's obviously ridiculous. And then Aslan shows up and sticks his whiskers in Bree's ear and says, "Look at me, I am a true Beast."

And yes, I know exactly what kind of theologian Lewis was making fun of, and I'd like to say that he was straw manning here, but alas I cannot.

Steve Morrison said...

'secret police' doesn't necessarily mean you don't know who runs the organisation. It means they operate in secret
Which is exactly what I was saying; only, as usual, you said it better.

Steve Morrison said...

I hated Zilah (Zilah? Was that her name? I should google this stuff.) in Waters because she fit the Christian literature aimed at boys too, too much.Her name was Tiglah.
Re the book order, A Swiftly Tilting Planet was written and published several years before Many Waters, but the internal chronology is in the reverse order. As a result, some sets switch them.

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